Sebastian Kurz press conference

Murder of a 13-year-old Girl Sparks Debate Over Austria’s Asylum Policies

The murder and sexual assault of a 13-year-old girl from Tulln (Lower Austria) on June 25 has led to a public outcry, as well as a heated political debate on deportation practices in Austria. All four suspects hail from Afghanistan; three of them have a criminal record andwere asked to leave the country after their requests for asylum were denied. According to a reconstruction of the night in question by the Vienna police, two of the suspects (aged 16 and 22) knew the victim and met her at the Donaukanal, where they allegedly gave her the drug ecstasy. They subsequently took her to the apartment of a third, 18-year-old suspect in the 21st district where a fourth suspect (22) later joined them; she was then supposedly given more drugs and subsequently sexually assaulted by at least two of the men. The exact circumstances of her death are still unclear, but the coroner currently assumes that the cause of death was asphyxiation; injuries sustained during the assault suggest that she fought back. Once the victim lost consciousness, the suspects allegedly panicked when they discovered her heart had stopped, attempting reanimation before bundling her in a carpet and leaving the body leaning against a tree in the early hours of Saturday, June 26.

The first two suspects were brought into custody on Friday, followed by the arrest of the third on Sunday; a fourth suspect wanted in connection with the murder has yet to be apprehended. Two of them, ages 16 and 18, have already confessed, but the 23-year-old arrested on Sunday has yet to do so; he is currently being held under charges of evading arrest, conspiracy and to prevent repeat offenses. The fourth suspect is believed to have fled the country; an international warrant for his arrest has been issued.

Several media outlets announced on Saturday that the suspect still at large had been charged six times for various crimes including distributing illegal substances, theft and assault and was convicted three times over drug-related offenses, most recently in 2020. Having initially applied for asylum in Austria as an unaccompanied refugee minor in 2015, his request was denied back in October 2017, but he remained in the country after filing an appeal with Bundesverwaltungsgericht (the Federal Administrative Court) which is still pending after four years. Austrian asylum law dictates, however, that an appeal should be processed as soon aspossible if the residence permit of the concerning party has been terminated.

Political Fallout

Chancellor Sebastian Kurz and interior minister Karl Nehammer have demanded that laws be tightened, with the latter expressing criticism towards the EU’s asylum system, “which forces us to let every asylum seeker in, no matter their country of origin.”  The administration insisted that they were unable to deport the suspects despite their criminal records as their applications were under appeal at the Federal Administrative Court, a process that can take years.

Minister of Justice Alma Zadić (C) Parlamentsdirektion/Thomas Jantzen

The minister of justice, Alma Zadić, saw the matter differently, stating that the current laws should be sufficient if implemented correctly. “Asylum legislation has been tightened several times in the last couple of years. Our laws provide enough options, they just have to beconsistently enforced,” she stated, noting that the ministry of the interior already has the legal framework to deport those with a criminal record despite ongoing court appeals.

The Federal Administrative Court also refused to take the blame, releasing an official statement on Monday emphasizing that they are doing everything in their power to keep the conversation factual and will therefore forgo any debates via the media. However, they didn’t deny the long delays in processing, citing their enormous backlog: in 2019, they heard a record 40,000 cases, 80% of which were asylum appeals.

The murder has also prompted a strong reaction from the right-wing populist Freedom Party(FPÖ), with Lower Austria’s regional Asylum minister, Gottfried Waldhäusl, starting aVolksbegehren (referendum) under the name “Deport criminal asylum seekers immediately,”which will be open for signing on July 15.