Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz

Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz (Credit Image: Dragan Tatic / Wikimedia)

Shutting down Islamic kindergartens where children have little or no command of German would be an efficient way to ensure the integration of migrants, Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz said.

The comment was made at a public event set up by Kurier newspaper.

“Of course, we don’t need them. There should be no Islamic kindergartens,” Kurz said when asked whether he would agree to completely get rid of such facilities.

According to the foreign minister, proficiency in German must become a gateway to Austrian society.

Immigrant children and others “who have little or no command of German” would have to attend kindergarten one year longer than their Austrian peers, he said.

“Quality criteria” for childcare workers should also be introduced to improve the standards of language proficiency.

Consequently, many Arab or Chechen kindergartens will fail to meet the requirements for state benefits and will be left with no choice but to close, Kurz said, adding, “This is the easiest way in terms of the law.”

In the meantime, the government “does very much” to improve integration efforts, Kurz said. He added, however, that success “depends very much on the number of those [who should be] integrated.”

Opposition parties say it is the policy of the current government, which Kurz is a part of, that has led to a situation in which the state sponsors childcare facilities that contribute to the creation of parallel societies.

It was Kurz’s Austrian People’s Party (OVP) that “always voted for more subsidies for those kindergartens and it was his party and his [policy] that tried to cater all these Muslim and radical Islamist movements in Austria,” Johann Gudenus, the Vice Mayor and a City Council of Vienna, told RT.

Gudenus, who is a member of the far-right Freedom Party of Austria (FPO), went on to say that the current “sudden” change of heart of the Austrian government is just an attempt to gain more support ahead of parliamentary elections which are scheduled for October 2017.

The foreign minister’s initiative also drew criticism from the Austrian Muslim community, which called it “institutionalized discrimination.”

If one “just forbids a religious minority, the Muslims, [to establish kindergartens] but allows other [communities] to do that … than this is a very clear institutionalized discrimination of a religious community,” Tarafa Baghajati, the chairman of the Austrian Muslim Initiative group, told RT.

Baghajati further accused Kurz of using Islamophobia to advance his political interests.

Controversy regarding Muslim kindergartens was recently stirred when a study by Austrian-Turkish Professor Ednan Aslan found more than 10,000 children aged from two to six attend around 150 Muslim preschools in Vienna which teach the Koran and pave the way for “parallel societies,” according to AFP.

“Parents are sending their kids to establishments that ensure they are in a Muslim setting and learn a few suras (chapters from the Koran),” Aslan, who researches Islamic education at Vienna University, told AFP.

“But they are unaware that they are shutting them off from a multicultural society,” the scholar said. According to his estimates, up to a quarter of Islamic kindergartens were being sponsored or supported by ultraconservative Salafist groups or organizations.

The study, published last year, resonated widely in the community, but some rejected the findings citing the unreliability of Aslan’s methodology. Biber, a local magazine, dispatched an undercover reporter who posed as a Muslim mother looking for a place for her son at an Islamic kindergarten.

She found no evidence of Aslan’s claims that Islamic preschools were nurturing future Salafists, but acknowledged many of those kindergartens were cutting off or isolating children from mainstream society. There were also questions about the “openness” of some staff and their command of German.

Kurz, the youngest foreign minister in the EU at the time of his swearing-in back in 2013, has previously advocated putting more curbs on immigration. In March, he proposed the opening of refugee centers outside the European Union, suggesting the Republic of Georgia and countries of the Western Balkans as possible locations.

Last year, he also made some incendiary remarks on refugees being rescued on their way across the Mediterranean, saying a rescue from a boat in distress should be “no ticket to Europe.”

Refugees who are rescued from boats in the Mediterranean Sea “must be returned immediately, ideally to their country of origin,” Kurz vowed at the time.

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