Country Report: Overview of the of the main changes since the previous report update Last updated: 08/04/21
The report was previously updated in March 2020.
- Access to the territory: Access to the territory remained restricted in 2020. This is due inter alia to the much criticised COVID-19 restrictions in force from March to April 2020 which foresaw the obligation to submit a valid health certificate in order to be allowed entry, thereby undermining the right to asylum, as well as the re-introduction of temporary border controls up until 11 May 2021. Allegations of illegal pushbacks were also reported at the Slovenian and Hungarian borders. Persons have been summarily returned to Slovenia based on a readmission agreement with no assessment of their protection needs and there is currently a pending Court case on the issue.
- Impact of COVID-19 on the asylum procedure: During COVID-19, the BFA reduced its activities but never suspended them, meaning that registration remained open and applications continued to be processed albeit at lower levels. Applications for international protection had to be lodged in person while any other related request had to follow a written procedure. All relevant legislative changes in 2020 dealt with Covid-19-related consequences.
- First instance procedure: In 2020, a total of 14,192 applications were lodged, marking an increaseof 10% compared to the 12,886 applications lodged in 2019. The average duration at first instance increased from 2.3 months in 2019 to 3.9 months in 2020, mainly due to COVID-19. The Austrian Ombudsman continued to receive complaints on the length of and deficiencies in the first instance procedure. As regards decision-making, a refugee status was granted to 7,710 persons and a subsidiary protection to 2,435 persons. The number of rejections is higher but detailed figures were not made available by the Ministry of Interior (i.e. available figures only related to rejections of the asylum status and not of the subsidiary protection). A total of 21,217 cases were pending both at first and second instance by the end of 2020.
- Second instance procedure: In 2020, the BVwG dismissed or amended a total of 9,730 decisions of the BFA, while 9,400 decisions upheld the decisions of the BFA. Statistics on the number of protection statuses granted to asylum seekers at appeal stage are not available. From March to mid-April 2020, all court hearings were suspended as a result of COVID-19. When they started to resume as of April 2020, access to certain Courts remained limited and restrictive measures are still being applied as of March 201. The restricted access to Court hearings is likely to be challenged by NGOs in 2021.
- Legal assistance: The main change in Austria remains the new state-run legal assistance system carried out by the Federal Agency BBU GmbH which started providing legal counselling in asylum procedures at the start of 2021. This means that funding for the provision of legal assistance by NGOs was officially suspended in 2020. Important concerns were raised regarding the new Federal Agency in light of its structural independence and impartiality which risks undermining the right to an effective remedy.
- Impact of COVID-19 on reception: A poor management of the Covid-19 crisis by the Ministry of Interior was reported in 2020, resulting in lengthy quarantine periods in federal facilities and inadequate reception conditions for asylum seekers. This also affected vulnerable groups such as a high number of unaccompanied children who had to stay in inadequate federal facilities due to a lack of communication between states and inadequate Covid-19 test strategies. The decree restricting the freedom of movement of asylum seekers in reception centres was challenged and two cases are currently pending in front of the Constitutional Court.
- Responsibility for reception: The responsibility for the provision of basic care also shifted to the new Federal Agency BBU GmbH in December 2020. As of 21 January 2021, they were a total of 26,623 persons receiving basic care, i.e. 14,125 applicants for international protection and 12,498 beneficiaries of international protection. The dispersal system of beneficiaries of basic care across Austrian territory remained an issue in 2020, as certain provinces such as Vienna continue to host more asylum seekers than the limits foreseen by the quota system.
- Access to the labour market: Following the restrictions that were introduced on the access to vocational training for asylum seekers in 2019, the Constitutional Court announced on 1 March 2021 that it will examine whether the relevant ministerial decrees are violating the constitutional rights of asylum seekers. By the end of 2020, only 576 applicants had valid working permits, out of which 397 were apprentices. This marks a significant decrease since 2018 when over 1,200 asylum seekers had a valid work permit and more than 1,050 were apprentices.
Detention of asylum seekers
- Impact of COVID-19 on detention: In 2020, there was a significant increase of the duration of detention for rejected asylum seekers as deportations could not be implemented during Covid-19 due to travel restrictions. The average duration of detention increased from 28.9 in 2019 to 83.3 days in 2020. Nevertheless, it should be noted that the use of alternatives to detention also increased which was due to COVID-19. It was applied in 677 cases in 2020, compared to approximately 270 cases between 2016 and 2018. Access of NGOs to detention facilities was further restricted in the context of COVID-19.
- Judicial review of detention: The access to NGOs and relevant counselling organisations from detention is likely to be restricted in the future due to the fact that the responsibility for providing legal assistance in the context of detention has also been shifted to the Federal Agency BBU GmbH.
Content of international protection
- Cessation and withdrawal procedures: The BFA continued to initiate a high number of cessation and withdrawal procedures, affecting in particular beneficiaries of protection from Russia, Syria and Afghanistan. Available statistics do not distinguish between the two procedures. In 2020, a total of 5,469 cessation/withdrawal procedures were initiated against asylum status holders, resulting in a cessation/withdrawal of asylum status in 1,341 cases. As regards subsidiary protection, a total of 2,321 cessation/withdrawal procedures were initiated and 499 of them resulted in a cessation/withdrawal. There are no available statistics on whether these decisions were enforced or appealed at second instance. Nevertheless, a recent study reveals that a high proportion of appeals against cessation and withdrawal decisions are dismissed by Courts when they involve delinquency as a cessation or withdrawal ground.
- Access to the labour market: Beneficiaries of international protection faced important obstacles in accessing the labour market in the context of COVID-19. An expert council of the Federal Chancellery reported that around 36,000 beneficiaries of international protection were seeking a job in August 2020. Similarly, figures made available at the end of the year reveal that a total of 35,632 beneficiaries of international protection were registered as unemployed at the end of 2020, compared to 31,137 at the end of 2019.