Far-Right Austria Governor Isolates Asylum Seekers

AP, October 8, 2008

Far-right Gov. Joerg Haider has set up a facility in the remote mountains of southern Austria to handle asylum seekers suspected as criminals, saying they need to be isolated to protect the people in the area.

Haider gained international prominence in 1999 when the Freedom Party, which he then headed, took 27 percent of the vote in Austria’s parliamentary elections. The party’s subsequent inclusion in the government led to months of European Union sanctions over Haider’s statements, which were seen as anti-immigrant, anti-Semitic and sympathetic to Adolf Hitler’s labor policies.

Haider is now governor of Carinthia province and his regional government set up the facility for asylum seekers, which sits in a secluded pasture in the mountains of southern Austria at an altitude of about 3,900 feet.

“With this security precaution, we are protecting the Carinthian population,” Haider told a news conference Monday. He said the number of criminal asylum seekers was on the rise.

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He said that the asylum seekers were allowed to move about freely on the premises but were being monitored.

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The building has the capacity to hold 50 but currently houses five men and has been in use for about a week. Petzner confirmed media reports saying the five came from Georgia, Kazakhstan and Gambia. He did say some in the group had been convicted, but did not say of what.

Petzner said residents would be “under constant observation so that no criminal acts can be committed.”

{snip} Carinthia currently has about 900 asylum seekers in total.

Roland Schoenbauer, officer-in-charge of the Vienna branch of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, said his office had asked Carinthian authorities to provide details about the conditions in the facility and those working there.

Schoenbauer also criticized the practice—by Haider and others—of associating asylum seekers with crime.

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