According to the law, UNHCR has access to all facilities and is allowed to get in contact with asylum seekers. NGOs have contracts in 7 out of 9 federal provinces for providing social counselling and visit reception centres of the federal provinces regularly. In two federal provinces, Carinthia and Tyrol, the social advice is provided by the federal administration. NGOs that do not fall under such contracts must file an application at the responsible office of the federal province in order to be granted access and visit asylum seekers. Access to detention facilities, including airport facilities, is difficult for NGOs in so far as they can only access if they already have some basic identification information on detained applicants, such as a name and date of birth. The state agency BBU that provides legal counselling is bound by secrecy and is for this reason hindered from passing on information about clients to NGOs.
In 2019, restriction of freedom of movement was not considered as a major problem by NGOs to get in contact and provide assistance to asylum seekers, as long as they also received care by the federal province. However, NGOs noticed that fines had been imposed and those having received a final rejection of their asylum application were ordered to live in the return centre Fieberbrunn, which is located in a very remote area. Moreover, access of NGOs to the centre in Schwechat Airport was not allowed and did not provide a suitable room for private consultations.
The situation in the return centres of Fieberbrunn (Tyrol) and Schwechat (Lower Austria) attracted public interest in 2019 as several rejected asylum seekers in Fieberbrunn initiated a hunger strike. A commission, composed of external experts and UNHCR, evaluated the situation in return centres in cooperation with the Ministry of Interior, especially in Fieberbrunn. An investigation was conducted and recommendations were published. The Ministry of Interior thus announced that it would follow the recommendations accordingly and monitor more closely the best interest of the child – meaning that, in the future, children should not be accommodated in Fieberbrunn and Schwechat but in another return centre which opened in Bad Kreuzen, Upper Austria, where they will be able to attend school. The Ministry also implemented more regular shuttle services per day from the Fieberbrunn centre to the village (as of 2019, there was only one shuttle per day).
Officials of the BFA told representatives from the NGO asylkoordination that these recommendations do not have a binding character. Nevertheless, at the time of writing of this report, there were no children accommodated in Fieberbrunn and the shuttle service between the remote camp and the village has improved. This being said, reports to NGOs show that the access to medical treatment is still difficult. Following the establishment of the BBU GmbH which started providing legal assistance as of 2021, there were rumours that access for NGOs to return centres would be restricted in future. The BBU GmbH clarified however that Diakonie Flüchtlingsdienst will have access to the centre and will be provided with a room for counselling services. In 2022, due to the high number of applications and the failing cooperation of the provinces, the facilities in Fieberbrunn were not only used to accommodate persons whose Dublin procedures were pending but also other applicants due to the high number of new arrivals in 2022.
During the first lockdown in spring 2020, many non-governmental counselling organisations started working part time. Due to the fact that appeal deadlines were suspended until the start of May, face-to-face counselling was also suspended in many cases. Counselling in deportation centres continued, but the access to the EAST was very restricted. NGOs shifted to counselling via telephone or video-conference, but this did not work well for persons detained in deportation centres due to the lack of access to technical equipment. As a general point of view, the NGOs reported that providing counselling through remote technical means can work in practice but cannot replace or meet the same standards as face-to-face counselling in all circumstances.
 Article 63(1) AsylG.
 Ministry of Interior, ‘Recommendations for human rights screening of return counselling services’, available in German at: https://bit.ly/2V7umVx.
 Ministry of Interior, Answer to parliamentary request, 3339/AB XXVII. GP, 11 November 2020, available in German at: https://bit.ly/3kLDV7b.