In a press conference Monday afternoon, Austrian Interior Minister Herbert Kickl (FPÖ) outlined his plans for “Sicherungshaft,” a legal change that would allow preventative detention for refugees deemed to pose a danger to Austrian society by the government.
The measure comes in the wake of a knife attack in the Vorarlberg city of Dornbirn, in which a Turkish asylum-seeker stabbed and killed a social welfare employee in a local administrative office after a dispute over his status, according to authorities.
Though the 34-year-old suspect was born in Austria, he was deported in 2010 for a string of alleged crimes. He returned to Austria in January of this year claiming asylum as a member of the minority Kurdish community in Turkey.
Kickl claims that under existing law, the government does not have the authority to preemptively detain refugees deemed as “dangerous,” and thus a change in the law is required. He said he seeks a similar policy already in place in Ireland, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Hungary.
Kickl views refugees as a threat to the “domestic security” of Austrian society and has vowed to change policies to better equip and empower authorities to take action before crimes are committed.
Beginning March 1, refugee arrival stations will be turned into “exit centers,” aiming to slow down or even curb asylum to the Alpine Republic. A strict curfew for refugees at these centers will be enforced from 8:00 PM to 6:00 am.
Kickl came under fire in late January for his comments to state broadcaster ORF in which he said that “it is up to the law to follow politics and not for politics to follow the law.”
Constitutional Change and Opposition Split
The security detention proposal would seek to amend the Violence Protection Act, enshrined in the Security Police Act of 1997. Such a change would require a constitutional amendment, meaning the coalition government of the People’s Party (ÖVP) and the Freedom Party (FPÖ) would need a two-thirds majority in the parliament. In order to pass, they’d need to shore up support from the entire caucus of the Social Democratic Party (SPÖ) or the liberal NEOS.
The opposition Social Democrats are currently undecided on the proposal, as key members of the party are split.
Former SPÖ Defense Minister and incoming Burgenland governor Hans Peter Doskozil has claimed he wants to see that power broadened to apply not only to asylum-seekers but also Austrian citizens as well, a wish echoed by Vienna mayor Michael Ludwig (SPÖ).
“For a victim of a violent crime, it does not matter where the offender comes from,” said Ludwig in an interview on ORF late Monday evening.
Other party officials are taking a defiant stance against the proposal.
Andreas Babler (SPÖ), mayor of the city Traiskirchen, which houses one of Austria’s largest refugee arrival stations, blasted Kickl’s proposal.
“What Kickl has announced is a radical attack on our rule of law, whether it’s internment, custody or otherwise,” said Babler. “In a developed democracy like ours, people, whether Austrians or refugees, being put under suspicion without having committed a crime is not only a taboo but a crude attack on our Austrian legal system.”
„Sicherungshaft“ ist vorerst nichts als eine Worthülse. Wir haben eine politische Debatte über eine Worthülse. Warum haben wir keine Debatte darüber, was das Innenministerium vor dem schrecklichen Mord in Dornbirn wirklich getan hat?
— alexander pollak (@pollak_politics) February 24, 2019
“Sicherungshaft is nothing but a word for now. We’re having a political debate about a word. Why don’t we have a debate about what the Interior Ministry really did before the horrific murder in Dornbirn?” asked human rights campaigner Alexander Pollak.
Alleine dass wir über die #Sicherungshaft überhaupt diskutieren finde ich beängstigend, wir kann es auch nur in Frage kommen Menschen ohne Urteil einfach so einsperren zu können? Wo kommen wir denn da hin, was soll es da zu verhandeln geben?
— Veronika Bohrn Mena (@VBohrnMena) February 24, 2019
“The fact that that we’re discussing #SecurityDentention alone is frightening to me. How can we even talk about locking people up without a sentence. What is this, what is there is negotiate?” asked author Veronika Bohrn Mena.
Die SPÖ ist nicht mehr ernst zu nehmen.
Dieses Herumeiern in Sachen Sicherungshaft ist kaum auszuhalten. Wollen die Roten eigentlich bei der nächsten Wahl überhaupt antreten?
— Florian Klenk (@florianklenk) February 25, 2019
“The SPÖ is no longer to be taken seriously. This dithering around the terms of security custody is hard to bear. Do the Reds actually even want to run at the next election?”
— Florian Hirzinger (@FloHirzinger) February 25, 2019
“Film tip #SecurityDentention”
Die angedachte Sicherungshaft ist ein gefährlicher Angriff auf unsere Freiheit. Eine Haft als “Prävention” hat in einem liberalen Rechtsstaat nichts zu suchen.
— Christoph Wiederkehr (@chriswiederkehr) February 23, 2019
“Preventative security detention is a dangerous attack on our freedom. Detention as “prevention” has no place in a liberal rule of law,” said Christoph Wiederkehr, Vienna municipal council member and head of NEOS Vienna.
A Power for Future Governments
The pivotal question for the coalition government is whether such a change should be enshrined in constitutional law, thus giving the current government and all future governments the power of preventative detention for those deemed a security risk.
The final proposal has yet to be completed, and Kickl is expected to unveil it in the coming weeks.