Here we are now: Ali, Amal, Mohamad, Fatima, Ahmed, the other students and I, sitting around one table in the classroom. The sun is shining brightly—it’s one of those beautiful summer’s-end days. Falafel, tabouleh, boulani, mamoul and other delicious food piles up on the table. My pupils from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran and Chechnya try to convince me, a vegetarian, to try at least one bite of the meat dish they have devotedly cooked. We are having our farewell dinner on the last day of our four-month German course and finally it pops up, the one question I am by now afraid to be asked: “What comes next?”
After several weeks of teaching the much-loved three German articles and other particularities of the language, I have no answer for my students on the final day. What should I say?
Times have changed, the government has changed, policies have changed. And the last changes have come very quickly. After the Austrian parliamentary elections in October 2017, Sebastian Kurz from the winning conservative People’s Party (ÖVP) announced his intention to form a coalition with the third-placed far right Freedom Party (FPÖ). Since December 2017, this government has been ruling the country and implementing its anti-immigration agenda. The government has also enacted other serious changes, like the extension of the maximum working day from 10 to 12 hours and the overturning of a ban on smoking in bars and restaurants. The shift in the immigration policy can already be noticeably felt less than one year later. Austrian authorities can confiscate up to €840 from asylum seekers upon their arrival in Austria. The government also wants to check asylum seekers’ mobile data to try to gather information about their escape routes. There will not be the possibility for asylum seekers to live in private accommodation anymore. They shall only live in government-organized quarters. The Interior Minister from the Freedom Party presented the idea, saying that he wanted “services centres and infrastructure that would allow the authorities to concentrate asylum seekers in one place”. The Vice Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache (FPÖ) moreover suggested that asylum seekers should be accommodated in military barracks and subject to a curfew.
Asylum seekers will no longer be able to take up apprenticeships while their claims are being assessed, which at the moment can take two years or more. The budget of the Austrian Public Employment Service (AMS) will be reduced, which will lead to fewer German lessons and integration projects that can help immigrants enter the labour market. The waiting period for refugees to apply for Austrian citizenship will be prolonged from six to 10 years (not to mention that Austria already had one of the European Union’s tightest nationality laws). And the list could go on…
One gets the impression that the official Austria, currently holding the presidency of the Council of the European Union, wants to deliberately isolate asylum seekers and refugees from the rest of the Austrian society. Participation in social, cultural and civil life is getting more and more difficult. Integration—or better said, inclusion—into a new society is also about giving perspectives. And these perspectives are becoming less heard and less prominent each day. After two years of teaching German and integration courses to more than 200 asylum seekers and refugees in Austria, it became hard for me to talk about the future with my students. I am still struggling to provide an answer to them that is not too disheartening.
BLOG POST on the 08/11/2018 for the EMA HUMAN RIGHTS BLOG