Tightening the immigration policy
The bottle neck of legal immigration
Ways into illegality
Illegalisation of immigrants
Illegalisation by closing the labour market to immigrants
Illegalisation through prevention of family unions
Illegalisation of children and juveniles
Illegalisation of refugees

The killing of Marcus Omofuma - and the consequences for the anti-racist scene in Vienna

There are lots of ways - even express and motorways - leading into illegality, but only a few stony paths to come back. The infrastructure towards illegality is fully developed, protected by laws and unpredictable, due to the discretionary powers of civil servants. Loss of work, divorce, criminal convictions, violations of regulations, illness - all these experiences are also unpleasant for Austrians. They can lead to personal crises as well as end in financial disaster. However, for Austrians these experiences are never a danger to their right to a life in Austria. For foreigners it is completely different. The above-mentioned events can cause the loss of their right of residence. Often the immediate effects of the original cause are small, in comparison to those resulting from illegality. [back to top]

Tightening the immigration policy
Whereas all barriers are disappearing one by one for commodities, the Fortress Europe is getting tighter and tighter for refugees and immigrants. In 1998, 25,632 persons were rejected at the Austrian border. Entry is refused in cases of doubtful identity, lack of means, suspicion of illicit employment, suspicion of using smuggling organisations, or missing visa stamps.
In most cases, the only way remaining for refugees is the often dangerous illegal border crossing. But even there, Austrian security is getting tougher. At the 1,460 km-long EU exterior border, a total of 6,000 border guards, customs officers, and soldiers are posted as defence against refugees.
When it comes to the acquisition of modern technical equipment, the Alps republic is on a spending spree. The arsenal reads like the requisites of a James Bond movie: 40 mobile heat image units, 6 stationary heat image units, 8 Monocular night vision aids, 189 "Biocular 25" night vision aids, 43 "Biokular 35" night vision aids, 200 binoculars, 85 video endoscopes, 49 rigid CO2 probes, 100 CO2 probe telescopes, 91 wall-thickness measuring units, 35 apron video units, 235 Garret metal detectors. The border guards are also equipped with cross-country vehicles.
During recent years, 6.2 billion shillings have been invested in border protection. Due to the reinforcement, the Austrian border is the end of the road for more and more people. From January to July 1999, a total of 21,369 people were caught, which is an increase of 155 per cent compared to the previous year.
Foreigners who are caught after an illegal border crossing can be turned back to the so-called secure third country, by international agreement. The application to do so must be filed within 90 days after illegal entry. For decades, such agreements have existed with the Western European neighbours. Since the beginning of the 90's, Austria has signed such agreements with the neighbouring former Eastern bloc countries.
In 1991/2, agreements had already been signed with Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Hungary and later with Romania and Slovenia. In 1995, the deportation agreement with Czechoslovakia was taken over by the two new states, the Czech and Slovakian Republics. On June 18, 1997, a deportation agreement was signed with Croatia.
These efforts receive doubtful praise from Germany. The Bavarian interior minister Beckstein, who in previous years had criticised Austria's border protection as inadequate and full of holes, is now praising the measures taken by Austria as exemplary for all Schengen countries.
However, the measures taken are still not enough for the border guards. In September 1999, by means of half-page advertisements in all the big daily newspapers, the military demanded a higher budget to enable them to protect the border1. The picture shows a young man with raised arms being searched by a soldier. Printed in big fat red letters above that scenario: 'One cries for help, if illegals cross our borders.'
Underneath the picture, the office for military policy (Büro für Wehrtechnik) states its impression of refugees: 'Our military is there, showing what can be done to protect our democracy, freedom and security in case of emergency. For nine years our soldiers have been stationed at the border in Burgenland (district of Austria). 2,000 men day and night. In all weather conditions. Three quarters of illegals are caught. Our military has protected us. And if necessary, our soldiers will protect us again.'
Efforts are being made pretending to fight the smuggling of refugees and organised crime. However, in reality these precautions hit especially those people who are victims of violence, war, and poverty. The fortress-like EU exterior border makes it necessary for refugees, to use the help of professional escape helpers.
The population in the border zone is actively included in the fight against refugees. In an official information sheet, the population of the upper Austrian community Schenkenfelden was called upon to help in the fight against illegal entries. Emphasised in that announcement was the exemplary co-operation with local hunters!
Newspaper reports prove how well the co-operation between the population and the executive functions. The Neue Zeitung reported on August 25, 1999:
'Yesterday afternoon a group of illegal border-crossers caused a search by the police. In the forest near Steinberg, mushroom collectors had noticed a 'larger group', and informed the police. By early afternoon four illegals had been caught. The search for further group members is continuing.' [back to top]

The bottle neck of legal immigration
In the 1997 law for foreigners there are, for the first time, timid signs indicating that Austria sees itself as an immigration country. On granting the first residence permit, foreigners are given the right to bring their partners and minor unmarried children. What looks very advantageous for immigrants in the wording of the law has very little effect in practice. A sensible application of this regulation fails, because of the extremely low quota set for new immigrants. In 1998, only 950 residence permits for all types of residence were allocated, including commencement of gainful employment. The consequence of this restrictive quota policy was that Austria, together with Germany, had the lowest immigration (0.06 per cent) of all EU countries. Nevertheless, during the election campaign, the Freedom Party (FP…) warned of infiltration by foreigners and demanded a complete stop to immigration. As a result, the Interior Minister announced the continuation of the restrictive immigration policy. [back to top]

Ways into illegality
In the eyes of many citizens, 'illegal' is often the same as being criminal. The high-circulation printing media intensifies that mood by tendentious reporting. Almost daily they report of captured illegal refugees and of the threat they supposedly present, not dealing with the often tragic fate of the refugees. Arrest, deportation, and tough action against human beings stigmatised as 'illegal' is approved of or at least tolerated by the majority of the population. Thus in 1998 alone, 5,791 persons were deported, 5,080 were expelled, and 11,985 were banned. In that period, 10,422 deportations were effected, 2,889 of which by air.
Even the death of Marcus Omofuma during his deportation has not improved the official treatment of human beings classified as illegal. On the contrary, this incident is used by the interior ministry to transport refugees who are expected to create problems during their deportation in especially chartered air planes. Almost unnoticed by the public, this procedure was used on June 24, 1999 for the first time. Such an arrangement shields the police men and women entrusted with the deportation. Possible attacks on board remain unnoticed and unpunished. [back to top]

Illegalisation of immigrants
The 1997 law for foreigners has brought some of the reforms demanded from Austrian NGO's for years. Specially perfidious means by which people were forced into illegality were abolished. Before the law was changed, even filing a correct application for prolongation of the residence permit, and fulfilling all the necessary criteria, could not prevent illegalisation caused solely by errors made by the authorities. However, even in the new 1997 law, a general renewal of residence status is not intended.
For the first time, the possibility to strengthen residence status was also enacted. Therefore, a gradual strengthening of residence status will take effect, and will result in improving the situation of immigrants legally living in Austria for years. Only people who have grown up in Austria, and been legal residents for many years, enjoy absolute protection against a compulsory end to their residence. [back to top]

Illegalisation by closing the labour market to immigrants
For immigrants especially, the regulations and restrictions on access to the labour market stand in the way of a stronger residence status. But people who live and work in Austria, but have not been residents for at least eight years, are also threatened by expulsion in the event of longer unemployment. The official peak figure2 lowered from 10 % to 9 % (1994) and later to 8 per cent over the last few years, increasingly prevented the start or restart in the legal labour market, and that also applies to legal residents from third countries. A lot of immigrants are thereby forced to earn their living in the illegal labour market. They are mostly employed in restaurants, in the building industry and as day labourers. Usually these jobs are badly paid, dangerous and offer no protection against exploitation by the employers. Moreover, due to their illegal labour, the Damocles sword of expulsion is permanently suspended over their heads. In 1998, 192 people were expelled because of their illegal employment, 1,154 lost their residence permit. [back to top]

Illegalisation through prevention of family unions
Even the annually permitted family unions of immigrants who arrived before January 1, 1998 are subject to the quota, and oriented to the conditions of the labour market, and not to the necessities of the immigrants. The circle of family members entitled to join their families has been drastically limited in the 1997 law for foreigners. Accordingly, children of immigrants registered before January 1, 1998 can only enter before they turn 14 -previously, that applied until children were of age3.
With that law, the Austrian authorities deny immigrants the right to live together as a family. Hence, single family members are brought illegally into the country. The regulation on the union of families is based on quotas and has also a disastrous effect on people with relatives living in Austria, looking for refuge from war or crisis. On May 19, only a few days before the start of the NATO bombardment, a woman coming from the crisis area in Kosovo was arrested with her three children in her husband's flat and deported to Györ by the Austrian authorities after a legally valid ¤4 decision4. The police were in such a hurry that she could not take any clothes or toys. Her husband in Austria had already filed an application for his family to join him in 1996, but as all quota places were allocated, the decision was negative. In September, the same happened to the family K. In that case, the couple had also filed an application for family reunion a year previously. Immediately after delivery of the negative ¤4 decision, the two women, with their four and six months old babies, were deported to camp Györ in Hungary, known for atrocious sanitary conditions. Even worse is the fact that one of the women had recently had an operation and was still under medical treatment. [back to top]

Illegalisation of children and juveniles
Even juvenile immigrants are often illegalised. The institution for youth welfare,'Back on Stage', has filed a petition for young immigrants illegally living in Vienna, and has thus drawn attention to the problem that children and youths who have spent most of their lives in Austria are also threatened by deportation. The fate of forty youths threatened by deportation was documented and forwarded to the interior ministry. In spite of the Interior Minister's agreement to deal favourably with the demands made, two of the youths have already been deported. In upper Austria, attempts to bring back a youth already deported to Hungary were successful. However, this was only possible because his class-mates and his teachers fought stubbornly for his return. The Austrian press covered, in great detail and in an exemplary fashion, the visit of a delegation of students and teachers to Hungary and the disastrous living conditions in the refugee camp.
Eventually, the public outcry persuaded the authorities responsible to permit the re-entry of the youth.
Living conditions for unaccompanied minor refugees are disastrous in Austria, and the regulations of the children's rights convention are not applied. Although unaccompanied minors are a group to be especially protected, only in exceptional cases are they accommodated appropriately by the youth charity institutions. They often live in mass quarters, are in deportation arrest, or are poorly accommodated by NGO's. Also lacking are German courses, apprenticeships and employment. The way into illegality is often predestined for this group in need of special protection.
Tony is only one of many who does not have a chance of a humane life in Austria. He is seventeen and comes from Sierra Leone. He fled because he was told to fight. He had neither an interest in killing people nor in risking his own life. Before his flight he had never heard anything about Austria. He wanted to go to Europe and accidentally landed here. He has been here for a month now and lived for three weeks in a refugee camp in Traiskirchen at first. Because he was not present during a check-up, he was thrown out and came to Vienna, where he slept in public toilets for six days. Now he has found a temporary illegal place to sleep in a single men's hostel. His only document is a piece of paper from Traiskirchen. Taking on work would be illegal. He cannot afford to be ill, because he is not insured. He dare not go by tram because of the high risk of being controlled and through having no money to buy a ticket. His future is uncertain. [back to top]

Illegalisation of refugees
Sooner or later the majority of refugees become illegal. Often their trail is lost, they must hide, or go on to other countries. If caught by the police, they are threatened by arrest and deportation. The number of deportation arrests imposed is constantly high in Austria (1996:14,718, 1997: 15,873 and 1998: 15,092). According to the law in force, even asylum seekers can be placed in deportation arrest.
Especially alarming is the high percentage of young detainees. According to the interior ministry, 778 minors were arrested in Austria in 1998. Tragic life-histories are often hidden behind the naked figures.
In spring 1998, Serb police searched villages with a majority of Albanian inhabitants for members and sympathizers of the UCK guerillas in the Kosovo province. Everybody was under suspicion. Men were arrested and beaten, women and children were threatened and intimidated during house searches. Time and again, attacks took place which often ended fatally.
One of the dead was Mehmet Krasniqi. Shortly after his death, Serb policemen were at the doorstep, Krasniqi's widow and his daughters were insulted and threatened, crockery was smashed and everything was turned upside down.
After a few days of continuous tension, the family council decided to send the youngest family member away. She has only recently turned 17. Ganimete was to try and get to relatives in Austria. A distant relative was to organise the trip, and the money needed was scraped together. In Hungary, Ganimete, together with five adults, hid in a goods train going to Austria. There she was arrested. She had no passport, hence had illegally entered Austria and was sentenced to deportation. She has to remain in deportation arrest until the Yugoslavian authorities issue a certificate for the homeward journey. The authority claims that deportation arrest is necessary to maintain law and order and also to prevent criminal acts. Ganimete could try to earn her living by committing punishable offences.
A lot of rejected asylum seekers cannot be deported to their home countries for various reasons: some countries refuse to take back their citizens, or the country of origin is not definitely known. The authorities can keep illegalised refugees in deportation arrest for up to six months, after that they are on the road. They are not allowed to stay and cannot leave Austria. Often they only have papers delaying their deportation. However, it does not establish legal residence, it only means that deportation is not possible at the moment.
Whereas the authorities consider deportation arrest an absolute necessity to prevent illegal movement, in reality they promote what they claim to fight. According to statements by the Interior Ministry, 4,000 asylum seekers have disappeared during running procedures from January to August 1999. For them it is only reasonable to use their first chance to leave this country.
For the Interior Minister it is totally different. Hence, he is now reacting with more restrictive measures against asylum seekers. On 23 August 1999, he announced in an interview with the Tiroler Tageszeitung that in the year 2000, following the Eurodac agreement, fingerprints will be taken from all asylum seekers, to be compared with data in other European countries. Furthermore, during the coming parliamentary term, the so-called 'extended danger research' can be practised by the police. This means that dubious political groups can be observed as a precaution. The police state is gaining clear contours in Austria. The state practises total surveillance on people classified as illegal, and human rights are clearly regarded as an annoying accessory. [back to top]

Heinz Fronek

asylum co-ordination
(Asylkoordination) Austria

1 According to statements of the association for conscientious objection and non-violence (Arbeitsgemeinschaft für Wehrdienstverweigerung und Gewaltfreiheit) the publicity campaign cost the Austrian tax payer 9.5 million shillings.
2 The official maximum figure (Bundeshöchstzahl) stipulates the number of people from third countries employed in Austria
3 1997 Law on foreigners ¤21 (3)
4 Inadmissible asylum applications due to secure third countries

and the consequences for the anti-racist scene in Vienna

The new political beginning
The forum 'For a world without racism' (Für eine Welt ohne Rassismus)

At the beginning of 1999, the discussion about illegalisation of refugees was first given organised expression in the campaign 'No one is illegal' (Kein Mensch ist illegal) in Austria. The campaign is more or less supported by different political groups fighting racism. The following short article describes the situation of anti-racist efforts in Austria. Regarding anti-racist policy, not even a halfway-organised social counterbalance to the overpowering executive state apparatus exists. Apart from the demand for human rights, anti-racism is weakly established in a broad but extremely fragmented spectrum of political groups. It ranges from the almost speechless progressive circles of the Social Democrats, to churches, Greens, Liberals, left wing and anarchistic groups, as well as organisations for the racially discriminated, especially the immigrants.
Immigrants from south-east and eastern Europe are the largest groups among the racially discriminated within the specific Austrian racial structure. Unlike most European countries, Austria had no colonies. In the mid-60's, a little later than in Germany and the Netherlands, immigration was forced by well-directed recruitment into industry. Therefore the demographic development is not as advanced as in other European countries. Only now, at the end of the 90's, is the so-called second generation reaching adulthood. During the last few decades, the political attitudes and conduct of the immigrants was based on the desire to return to their countries of origin. Hence, closed immigrant communities were established, whose efforts regarding integration and representation have been rather weak in the past. The communities constitute themselves within the language groups and have so far almost no instruments for unified representation of their interests.
But they have formed internal net works also supporting illegalised people (for example, by offering employment). Only recently, a departure from this desire to return is noticeable. Even after decades of being residents in Austria, the immigrants (and, due to the 'ius sanguinis', also the second generation) are excluded from all political rights. Only now are they looking at the political situation in Austria, and at racism.
The political parties are beginning to discover anti-racism as a topic for their election campaigns. For the first time, Social Democrats and Greens present racially discriminated candidates on promising list places for the parliamentary election in autumn 1999. Thus, the parties are reacting to the demographic changes. In spite of the restrictive immigration law, there has been a constant number of naturalisations over the years. Hence, over the last decade a larger proportion of voters with an immigrant background has emerged, and is now slowly becoming an attractive target group for the parties. However, it is not intended to grant political rights to the majority of people with foreigner status. Since the beginning of the 70's, Austria has been the only European country where foreigners are not eligible for works committees. The lack of opportunity for immigrants to rise in the union hierarchies throws a bad light on the centralist-structured unions regarding racism, and their more or less vain efforts regarding an anti-racist policy.
Racism is now a major theme in the Austrian election campaign; even parties of the so-called Centre use it openly. The foreign media often paint a picture of an unstoppable, threatening, right-wing campaign by Jörg Haider, thereby overlooking the strong nationalistic tradition of Austrian social democracy. In contrast to Germany, the period of National Socialism has never been properly dealt with in Austria. The so-called grand centre coalition governing the country since the mid-80's has fulfilled all demands of the Freedom Party (FP…) for a tighter immigration policy. Apart from the aggressive rhetoric, there is hardly any difference between right-wing and centre. In Austria more than anywhere else, racism comes 'from above', from the state, the three big political parties and the most important lobbyists. In addition, there is the almost total press monopoly of the Kronenzeitung, with a market domination of 80 per cent, which is unique in the world. The Krone is an exclusively right-wing paper, always aggressive and always reporting in the interests of the police. However, anti-racist subjects are hardly communicable via other media.
The total absence of an important anti-racist counterbalance is the sharp difference in the racial situation in Austria compared to other European countries, thus making up the special quality of racist attitudes here. In contrast to other countries, there are no cracks in the power bloc. This has resulted in the precarious situation of anti-racism in Austria, marked by constant setbacks during the last decade. [back to top]

The new political beginning
Since the beginning of 1999, linking up the scenes separated so far was the most important step taken by anti-racists in Austria. On the immigrant side, some new organisations have been formed, opening discussions with the NGO's. They claim their right to speak for themselves, and like the Sans Papiers, no longer tolerate the general agitation on their behalf. In these initiatives, not connected to single countries of origin, the second generation plays an active role. But due to the decline of the welfare state, the first generation also recognizes the necessity of representation in their interests. The fact that most communities are very small intensifies the willingness to cooperate between the communities. Parallel to the political changes, often fierce discussions between established and new groups about their political attitude are taking place. A tendency towards retreat by established groups (especially big charities) from joint forums and networks is noticeable.
Since 1998, there has been a massive increase in police violence against blacks, under the guise of fighting drug crime and searching illegal people. Based on an (officially denied) order from the interior ministry, there were and still are targeted controls, solely on the basis of skin colour. Whereas the danger of violent attacks by neo- Nazis is relatively small in Austria, the police (especially at night) are a threatening factor for blacks. In this situation, the African communities in particular have played a decisive role in uniting the groups. The historical first demonstration with a massive African presence took place on March 19, 1999.
This demonstration was a reaction to several cases of racist violence by the police: a few weeks before the demonstration, a young black suffocated during a raid when police tried to stop him from swallowing a so-called cocaine ball. The initiative for the demonstration was taken by an Afro-Austrian, who was beaten so badly by two policemen during a control that he had to spend eleven days in hospital. At first, this man was supported by left-wing groups, then the second generation Africans started a campaign which led to the actual success of the demonstration against racist police terror. Almost a third of the ca. 3,000 Africans living in Vienna were on the streets that day.
In March, during a meeting of NGO's from all over Austria in Salzburg, an anti-racism network was also founded. One of the network's aims was to start a discussion on certain aspects of racist policy in Austria. At the beginning of 1999, following the German example, the campaign 'No one is illegal' (Kein Mensch ist illegal) had already started, soon leading to the formation of a circle of liberal left-wing groups.
These parallel developments were the basis for the broad amalgamation and rapid action after the killing of Marcus Omofuma during his deportation, on the flight from Vienna to Sofia on May 1, 1999. [back to top]

The forum 'For a world without racism' (Für eine Welt ohne Rassismus)
The media was very interested in the news that Marcus Omofuma had been bound and gagged with adhesive tape and died by suffocation. The days and weeks following the killing can be split into several phases: the first ten days were the mobilisation phase. During that time two larger demonstrations took place as well as almost daily gatherings, for example in front of the Social Democratic Party's head office, at Parliament and the Interior Ministry etc. The passers-by and even parts of the conservative media reacted positively. England, France and Nigeria announced concerted actions at the Austrian embassies.
During this phase, the decisive course was set by the blocs in power. In the first statements by the heads of the progressive wing of the Social Democrats, party discipline and the closing of ranks with the Interior Minister were most important. On May 5, the first attack by the media was made; the headline in the Kronenzeitung read: 'Such was the deportee's rage!' Marcus Omofuma was described as a savage trouble-maker who could only be subdued by three policemen when bound and gagged (because of this headline and the following article, the Kronenzeitung was condemned one month later by the Press Council). Parallel to that, surveys were published in which 88 per cent of those interviewed voted against the resignation of Interior Minister Schlögl and 80 per cent would have done the same as the three policemen. Thus, during the first few days, it was clear that there would not be a symbolic sacrifice on the part of the Interior Minister as happened in Belgium.
However, the second phase succeeded in keeping the Omofuma case in the news; in posters using the symbol of the gagged mouth, in the continuous media coverage about the autopsy reports, the return of the three policemen from Bulgaria, and their delayed suspension. In this phase of calm after the storm, plans were made for a big demonstration at the beginning of June. The mobilisation of more immigrant groups was a decisive factor.
Eight days before the demonstration, the blow from the Interior Ministry came. The phase of criminalisation started with a raid, unique in the history of the Second Republic, against 'Nigerian drug dealers. 850 police arrested 102 people, confiscating only 2 kilos of cocaine and some hashish. Due to the media coverage of the police action, the equation: black = drug dealer was reinforced. The police presented as a drugs boss a Nigerian activist from 'For a world against racism', also a member in several of the participating organisations, and therefore an important intermediary in the immigrant scene. The human rights scene is supposed to be infiltrated by the drugs mafia and used as a protective shield for their operations. The 'drugs boss' and his recorded statement to 'his people' 'Leave work and join the demo!' was used by the press to connect drug traffic and the anti-racist scene. Three months later, when the release of the alleged 'drug boss' was achieved by the prosecuting attorney's office, because no proof of his membership in a criminal organisation could be supplied by the police, the interest of the media was comparatively modest.
The effect of connecting drugs trafficking and political activism was grave. Breaches between 'moral' and 'political' anti-racism were torn open again by immediate dissociation. Stronger repression, as well as constant raids and arrests, led to a retreat by the Africans - four months after the first raid, 60 people are still in custody without indictment. Due to the criminalisation, the demo slogan 'We are not dangerous, we are in danger' has taken on a new dimension. The link to other immigrant groups could not be achieved to the extent anticipated. Hence, the demonstrations following the raid were not so numerous. Due to that development in mid-June, the platform discussed and developed strategies for a long-term amalgamation of anti-racist groups. [back to top]

For anti-racist efforts in other European countries, the developments in Austria are significant: regarding the reinforcement of the fortress Europe, the constant tightening of immigration policy dividing rich and poor, coordination of asylum legislation and the use of political pressure on the Eastern European candidates for EU membership, Austria is playing the tactical role of a frontrunner. On the basis of the widespread racist attitudes in the population, which have no relevant counterbalance, political measures can easily be carried through and used as a model by other countries.
The radical proposals for more stringent measures by the Austrian Interior Ministry, which cause official head-shaking elsewhere, point the way. One example is the internationally known proposals of 1998 by head of department Matzka regarding the European refugee policy, in which, among other things, measures to regionalize refugee streams together with restrictions on the extent of legal immigration are described, and in which the Geneva convention is declared out-dated, and (civil) war no longer a reason for granting asylum.
'We stand at the beginning': this has been the central topic of discussion in anti-racist circles in Austria over the last few years. On the one hand, positive developments cannot be denied, but on the other, it is obvious that we are constantly being thrown back. A broadly developed critical movement is lacking, as well as strong communities equipped with political rights, resources for anti-racist work, legal tools for action against racism, and a general debate on racism itself - in short, we lack a whole social movement. Still! [back to top]

A lutta continua
Andreas Georg