As travelers we’re used to following signs: Left or right, in or out, arrivals, departures and baggage claim. At the Interior Ministry’s processing centers for asylum seekers, the sign reads Erstaufnahmezentrum (Initial Reception Center). At least it was until March 1st: Now the warm welcome has been replaced with Ausreisezentrum – Departure Center.
Interior Minister Herbert Kickl is a rarity among politicians: He actually means what he says. And just in case the change left any questions, he spelled it out for the press: “The message is: “For those who don’t qualify for asylum, there are no entry tickets, just returns.” And the signs were just the beginning, at the top of a ten point list of new measures to throttle the flow of asylum seekers. Even more radical, he is proposing to lock up anyone he deems a danger to public safety.
Reactions to the latest provocations from the government’s most unpopular minister were both predictable and surprising. Predictably, many of the liberal and the populist dailies were shocked, and all were at least concerned, about the encroachment on basic freedoms: Habaus corpus anno 1215 anyone? Most surprising was the reaction of the social-democratic SPÖ, revealing their political bind: These restrictive measures are broadly popular with a public alarmed by the perception of hordes of brown skinned, knife-wielding immigrants surging across the border. Unlike the media’s resounding objections, the new SPÖ leader Pamela Rendi-Wagner suggested, “Let’s talk about it.”