Interviews carried out in Summer 1997
with leading Austrian and German officials appointed for the implementation
of the foreigner and asylum legislature.
Mag. Wolfgang Taucher
Head of the Austrian Federal Asylum
My name is Wolfgang Taucher, I've been
the Head of the Federal Asylum Office in Austria for over a year. The Federal
Asylum Office is the Asylum Authority in the first instance, that is, we
as a Federal authority with branches in the Länder decide in all cases
and in the first instance whether somebody is a refugee or not.
As all neighbour countries of Austria
count as Safe Third Countries, it is impossible, due to the third country
regulation, for many refugees (also politically persecuted refugees) to
attain a proper asylum proceeding. Their applications are in most cases
already rejected as "manifestly unfounded" at the border. Most refugees
are therefore forced to enter illegally in order to make their application
If someone makes an asylum application
at the border, which is then rejected as "manifestly unfounded", he can
be deported for example via Hungary to the Ukraine, where there's no asylum
procedure at all. However, in spite of this, the Ukraine counts as a safe
Their is no rejection at the border due
to the third country regulation; on the contrary, it is merely decided
whether entry will be granted or not. That is the difference between the
procedure which takes place internally! According to the law every safe
third country has to carry out the refoulement check. The danger of the
chain deportation is very much an issue in the third country concept. The
deportation chain has to be interrupted at some point. This is then the
case, if a state does not deport any further since the next link in the
chain is an unsafe country. The Third Country Regulation has its justification
and is nothing new. One point was already widely discussed at the Refugee
Convention of 1951: Does the refugee have the right to select his country
of residence? The founding fathers and mothers of the Refugee Convention
came to the conviction: no.
Through the new Asylum Law people on
escape only have the opportunity of appealing against a decision of the
Asylum Office within 48 hours. Until now, at least it was 14 days, corresponding
to the general appeal norm in Austria. Constitutional lawyers see in this
a contradiction to the constitution.
According to the law it's not 48 hours,
but 2 days and in juridical terms 2 days is longer than 48 hours. Strange
as that seems, that's just how it is. The idea is to react quickly in the
case of certain procedural constellations. This is not only a European
concept, but is widely accepted. The UNHCR also doesn't fundamentally oppose
special proceedings for certain case constellations, as they make sense
and, in the last instance, serve the right of asylum.
In the Schengen Agreement there is an
article which determines that transport companies, such as airlines have
to cover the costs of the return flight of passengers without a visa. This
leads to people in flight from their country, which persecutes them politically,
being turned away at the reception desk of the airlines. Do you approve
of this regulation, or would you personally speak out for a change to this
No. That is, I see this regulation somehow
as a technical detail in the Schengen Agreement, nothing more nor less.
It doesn't in principle affect our checks. If someone does in fact come
to Austria by air, his case will be decided upon through a separate examination
regime in a separate airport proceeding. If it is decided it's a manifestly
unfounded asylum case, then this regulation is a technical instrument
for coming to the implementation relatively
quickly. From the moment the asylum application is made this concerns us
directly and is within our executive powers.
If someone makes an asylum application
at Vienna Schwechat airport, then a check will follow. His application
is dealt with relatively quickly. The clause you mention is simply to help
the implementation of a negative decision.
But if the airline doesn't transport
the refugee at all due to the Schengen regulation - and indeed there are
numerous cases to prove this -, then everything you're saying here doesn't
Namely, the refugee doesn't come to
Vienna Schwechat at all! This was actually the question! Would you personally
speak out for a change to this requirement?
Right now I don't see any need at all to
make any change in the Schengen Agreement. Indeed this requirement has
been in the Foreigners Law in a similar form since the beginning of 1992.
Such a direct effect, where the obligations placed on the carriers lead
to an overlap with the duties of the Federal Asylum Office, was not apparent
There are reports of air carriers
and shipping carriers selecting passengers according to their skin colour.
These then are the effects of such harmless sounding wordings of a law.
Once again, we've had these regulations
until now and such selections are simply not known to me. Quite on the
contrary, percentage-wise we have a relatively high proportion of people
who enter via the airport.
Dr. Gerold Lehnguth
Ministerial Director of the Department
for Asylum and Foreigner Affairs of the German Federal Ministry of the
My name is Lehnguth. I am the standing
representative of the Head of Department for Asylum and Foreigner Affairs
of the Federal Ministry of the Interior in Bonn. The department was founded
in 1992: at that time one wanted to underline the very high priority of
this political area through an independent department, in particular with
regard to the increasing numbers of asylum seekers in Germany which, as
you know, had reached a peak in 1992. At that time a change in the Asylum
Law in Germany, which is anchored in Article 16, was considered. We work
in the areas of asylum, foreigner policy, within the framework of the EU
and the repatriation of persons.
Are you actually involved in the redesign
of the legislature concerning foreigners?
Yes, of course. There are drafts which
are considered in the Federal Ministry of the Interior, and also in the
case of party initiatives the Federal Ministry and the whole Federal Government
are brought in.
What does the German legislator actually
understand under integration?
In our opinion integration is an ongoing
process. The foreigner enters into his new life in Germany and should continually
adapt himself to the new situation.
You refer to adaptation. By adaptation,
do you also mean a form of cultural adaptation?
You mustn't overinterpret the word adaptation.
Of course I have to respect the customs and traditions of the new country.
I also have to comply with the law system, subordinate myself to legal
regulations as is natural for every other visitor.
For me too, if I travel to foreign countries
as a German. However, by this I don't mean someone should lose or neglect
their cultural identity.
Children who were born and grew up in
Germany can be deported to their country of origin against their will and
the will of their parents. Even ill children, who can't then be medically
taken care of adequately, are also affected by this deportation practice.
These are extremely rare, exceptional cases.Basically
you have to imagine the multitude of foreigners has a legal limit, and
that is 7.3 million. Of course, we frequently have findings, also in the
area of asylum, of parents from all countries of the world trying to gain
a foothold in Germany. First of all, they just send their children as a
forward bastion. To me these are really bad incidents. So, for example,
children with no reference point at all here, are sent to Frankfurt in
aeroplanes so they can go through a good education here.
The children are talked to in a very gentle
manner by the border officials and one tries to find out what they're after
in Germany anyway.Then it turns out they have absolutely no relatives or
acquaintances here, but the parents hope Germany will admit the child here
and let it go through the school system.
We know of a case where a three-year
old child born in Germany should have been deported. So it can't have been
sent ahead by its parents. In other countries it would later simply receive
citizenship, as well, on the basis of its place of birth.
I can't comment on this individual case
as I don't know it. I can't imagine that a three-year old child has been
deported. If I could come back again to the asylum situation: I'm sure
you know we changed the Asylum Law in
1993 with great effort, politically speaking.
Asylum, Article 16 in the constitution, has a very heavily laden history
in Germany; it was very generously formulated in the constitution. However,
in our opinion, it was indeed abused as a vehicle for entry.
You mean Article 16 A, " Politically
persecuted persons have the right of asylum", became a vehicle for entry?
It became a vehicle for entry and that
was at the cost of the genuinely politically persecuted, who are also still,
as before, protected by the constitution Article 16A. However, you have
to understand we have a very meticulous asylum procedure in Germany. The
first stage is that they go through one or two hearings in the Federal
Office for the Recognition of Foreign Refugees in Zirndorf. Then there
may follow court proceedings through the Administrative Courts, should
received a negative asylum decision.
Is it not so that from Austria and Germany's
point of view, due to the Third State Regulation, all neighbour states
count as safe third states and, therefore, it is impossible for refugees
to come to Germany over land?
This question is always posed to me. The
Third State Regulation was put into force on the 1st July 1993. In
the following years we still had, as before, many asylum seekers: In 1994
we had 127,000 asylum seekers, in 1995 we had 127,000 and in 1996 we had
116,000. So it's not correct to talk of "The German Fortress" or "The European
Fortress" - people are still getting in
But they have to enter illegally due
to the legal regulations...
Yes, that's right, but...
Seen in this light, it's of course wrong
to place the blame on organisations dealing with the trafficking of foreigners
("smuggling organisations"), for they're only reacting to the legal regulations?
Yes, okay, but you will of course agree
with me that the trafficking organisations should be combated and shouldn't
drag the people out of their well-
ordered circles, their original countries.
We are still of the opinion that asylum seekers, who have a reason for
asylum, are still able to reach Germany as before. This is also shown by
the high percentage of acceptances we have here! On the other hand, if
you examine the asylum seekers, who ostensibly come under the term of asylum,
then it's also not always the poorest who come from these countries. They
belong to a class which has enough money to pay a trafficker or a flight.
That all costs a lot of money, for instance to buy a ticket from India
The Third State Regulation, I'm sure
you'll agree with me and know yourself, leads to chain deportation, the
so-called domino effect. For example, a refugee deported from Germany lands
in Poland and is redeported from there to the Ukraine, which counts as
a safe third state...
Of course I don't agree with you there
- you won't have expected me to either, because...
No, of course not!
The Head of the Austrian Asylum Office
didn't dispute this...
No, we do dispute that very resolutely
because we have investigated these countries very meticulously. We have
cooperation agreements with Poland and the Czech Republic. These also include
financial support to help both these countries in this area.
These countries, however, have invested
that money primarily in border control.
That money should actually be used for
three goals: firstly, to secure the borders, that's right, but also, secondly,
to further develop or build up an asylum structure, and then also to extend
some data areas. Thus, in Poland we have formed a committee which really
does observe what the money is spent on. So it's not just used for border
What interest should Poland have in
accepting refugees whom Germany already didn't want to let in? You said
it's true that asylum seekers have the right to an orderly asylum procedure,
yet the question is how it turns out!
Poland has indeed also been a democracy
for a few years and they in Poland know that, and it also has a strong
interest in joining the European Union. The European Union has already
made offers for talks to a few countries, with Poland among them. Poland
has to endorse the international agreements if it wants to be on the train
to Western Europe.
You mentioned before that politically
persecuted persons also have the possibility of entering Germany by aeroplane.
That may be true, but there are extremely restrictive visa regulations
here. In the Schengen Agreement there is even an article laying down that
carriers, for example airlines, have to cover the costs of the return flight
of passengers without a visa.
Well yes, in the German Foreigner Law there
is also such a regulation, because we think the air carriers also have
a legal responsibility. They have to check who gets into an aeroplane with
a visa. In this respect I do think it's right that some air company or
other doesn't just always cart people without a visa into Germany or Austria.
One can't get the people out that easily, you know – now you have to think
about that again as well. We have a relatively large number of foreigners
with compulsory exit orders, yet who won't definitely be admitted by their
home country. That's a big problem, not just for Germany, also for Austria
and other EU countries. That means I can't simply deport people to their
home country just like that. The home country also has to be prepared to
accept this person again. They say for example, that's not one of our nationals,
you can't prove it. We frequently have such difficulties precisely with
North and black African countries. In Hamburg, for example, there are 2000
black Africans whose identity is not ascertainable. The Hamburg Foreigners
Department in some cases goes from embassy to embassy with them. So, for
example, at the Senegalese embassy he says he's Nigerian, although beforehand
he'd said he was Senegalese. These are disastrous proceedings.
In Germany, as in Austria and the rest
of Europe, an equation of so-called illegals with criminals takes place
in most of the media. This equation also finds expression in an inconspicuous
way in formulations of laws. So, for example, in Article 9 of the Schengen
Agreement the Schengen states are asked in the same breath to take up the
fight against criminality, unauthorised entry and the unauthorised residence
of persons. What do think to this?
I can only support it. I can't say anything
against it. I'm unable to share the insinuation you made there before.
I do indeed think the fight against illegal residence is important. Every
state should actually have an overview of who is legally residing there
as a foreigner. The number of illegal persons is of course rising in many
countries. One also ought to let it be known in the countries of origin,
"You people, there's no point in coming to Germany. If you're not really
politically persecuted, then you'll have to go back again!" That's why
I feel especially sorry for those who give up their existing livelihood,
give all their money to a trafficker or save up and set off to follow a
false promise: This is not the land where milk and honey flow. Perhaps
you know from the crime statistics that 30% of crimes are committed by
foreigners, while only 9% foreigners live in Germany. One has to look very
carefully in this connection at whether we're dealing with the completely
normal, integrated foreigners staying here, or whether it's bands who come
to Germany to commit crimes, such as car theft, people trafficking, narcotics
With these 30% of crimes, however, it's
mostly a matter of violations of the Asylum Laws.
Okay, but if you now exclude that, then
I can refer you to the fact that foreigners are involved in 60% of the
organised crime. This figure plays a big role in the political debate.
Only really serious crimes are counted in the area of organised crime...
But the trafficking of persons is also
counted as organised crime!
Yes, it is, but not if I've simply violated
the Foreigner Law or a registration regulation.
Okay, shall we finish here!?