Austria rules out asylum changes, ignoring protest

Wed Jan 23, 2013 11:56am EST
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VIENNA (Reuters) - Austria ruled out changes to its asylum system on Wednesday, dismissing demands from dozens of refugees camped out in protest in a Vienna church, including some who have been on hunger strike.

Interior Minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner said Austria's treatment of asylum seekers compared well with other European countries and there would be no structural changes.

"I see no need," she told the Austria Press Agency.

The refugees, who are being supported by agencies including Catholic social charity Caritas, want the right to work while they are waiting - sometimes for years - to find out whether they can stay in Austria.

They also complain of overcrowded living conditions in Austria's main refugee camp in Traiskirchen, Lower Austria, the fact that they can be moved between camps without consultation, and the fact that Austria keeps their fingerprints.

On Wednesday, they told reporters they had no intention of abandoning their weeks-long protest or of losing visibility by leaving the Votivkirche in central Vienna to move to alternative shelter offered by Caritas and the government.

"If the politicians wanted to solve the problem, they could solve it in a few days and everything would be fine," Muhamed Numan, a 24-year-old protester from Pakistan, told Reuters in the bitterly cold church.

Some 40 refugees - mostly from Pakistan and Afghanistan - who had been on hunger strike, some since before Christmas, broke their fast on Tuesday night but said they were merely pausing for about a week to regain strength for negotiations.

Asylum-seekers are now allowed to seek seasonal work such as fruit harvesting after three months, but may not seek permanent employment until their asylum request is approved.   Continued...

Refugees sit in a mattress camp in Votivkirche church in Vienna January 23, 2013. REUTERS/Heinz-Peter Bader