Austria to seize asylum seekers' mobile phones, cash

VIENNA • Asylum seekers will be forced to hand over their mobile phones and up to €840 (S$1,360) in cash to the authorities, under measures approved by the Austrian Cabinet yesterday.

The money will be put towards the costs of their applications, while the authorities will examine whether geo-location data from refugees' phones match their accounts of how they arrived in the country.

If the applicant is found to have previously entered another European country where the so-called "Dublin regulation" is in force, they could be sent back there.

Interior Minister Herbert Kickl, from the far-right Freedom Party (FPOe), said that his aim was a "restrictive and enforceable law regarding the rights of foreigners", in order to end "abuse" of the asylum system.

The measures are due to be voted through by Parliament in the next few weeks.

In last year's parliamentary election, a crackdown on immigration was one of the FPOe's key themes and was also adopted by Chancellor Sebastian Kurz and his centre-right Austrian People's Party.

Austria received more than 150,000 asylum applications - almost 2 per cent of its total population of 8.7 million - following the migration crisis of 2015.

The measures announced yesterday also mean that refugees will only be able to apply for Austrian citizenship after 10 years, as opposed to six previously.

Deportations of asylum applicants convicted of crimes will also be sped up.

Human rights pressure group SOS Mitmensch denounced the measures. "When the last bit of cash is taken away from men, woman and children, who already have very little, it's debilitating for those concerned," the group said.

It added that the measures would make integration more difficult.

The seizure of mobile phone data would be a "serious intrusion into people's privacy", it said.

It also said the plan to make applying for citizenship harder was "political posturing" to conceal the fact that the process is already very difficult.

Last week, Mr Kickl said he would push his European Union colleagues to end the possibility of asylum applications being made in Europe.

He wants a system where people can apply for asylum only in so-called "transit zones", outside the EU's borders.

He had previously stirred up controversy earlier this year by saying he wanted to "concentrate" asylum-seekers in certain places, employing a word that is widely associated with Nazi camps.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 19, 2018, with the headline 'Austria to seize asylum seekers' mobile phones, cash'. Print Edition | Subscribe