Austria eyes asylum crackdown inspired by UK's Rwanda scheme

EU country wants law change as it takes lessons from Britain's Home Secretary Suella Braverman

Britain's Home Secretary Suella Braverman briefed her Austrian counterpart Gerhard Karner on the Rwanda scheme on a visit to Vienna. PA
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Austria is seeking an EU green light to deport migrants to third countries such as Rwanda, in a scheme inspired by the UK.

Interior Minister Gerhard Karner said Austria was “highly interested” in Britain’s controversial plan to move asylum claims off its territory.

The UK, which left the EU in 2020, has yet to send any migrants to Rwanda because of legal challenges.

Any such scheme within the EU would be likely to face even stiffer legal hurdles, but Mr Karner said Austria is lobbying for a change in the rules.

“We in Europe do not yet have the legal possibilities,” he said after UK Home Secretary Suella Braverman visited Vienna to brief Austrian officials on the Rwanda plan. Mr Karner called for “massive pressure” on EU countries to change the law.

He claimed there was a “widening alliance” of EU members interested in Austria’s proposals. The landlocked country has taken a hard line on migrants arriving via southern Europe from countries such as Tunisia and India.

“We believe it is the wrong signal to send out to people that if they make it to Lampedusa [in Italy] and arrive there, they will be distributed across Europe,” Mr Karner said.

“We believe that it would only invite people to start this dangerous journey, and further increase migration. We believe that the approach pursued by the UK is therefore very important.”

Both the UK and Austria have credited tough policies with bringing down asylum numbers at their borders. The two ministers also signed an agreement on closer police co-operation.

Ms Braverman said she was confident the UK’s Supreme Court would let the Rwanda scheme go ahead.

Britain’s proposal, bitterly opposed by human rights groups, aims to deter irregular migrants by sending them to Rwanda if they arrive illegally in the UK. The African country agreed to the plan in exchange for £120 million ($146.6 million) in development funding.

Legal battle

The Court of Appeal blocked the scheme in June, with two out of three judges upholding a claim by 10 asylum seekers that their risk of inhumane treatment in Rwanda was too high.

The government is appealing against the decision in the hope of pursuing what Ms Braverman insisted was a “humanitarian and fair approach” to stopping small boat migration across the English Channel.

“When I talk to our European counterparts I’m always very keen to share with all colleagues what we have learnt and how our partnership works,” she said on Thursday.

Judges have heard that EU law requires “a connection between the person seeking asylum and the third country concerned”, a provision which no longer applies in Britain.

Denmark, which has an opt-out from EU asylum policy, last year held similar talks with Rwanda on transferring asylum seekers. However, the policy was put on hold in January in favour of seeking a Europe-wide solution.

The EU’s 27 countries struck a hard-fought asylum deal in June in which inland countries would agree to share the burden in exchange for tougher border checks in which some asylum seekers are summarily turned away.

The agreement could see member states fined €20,000 ($21,000) for each migrant they fail to relocate.

Updated: November 02, 2023, 1:17 PM