Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Austrians protest ejection of "integrated" foreigners

Austrians protest ejection of "integrated" foreigners

Tue Oct 9, 2007 6:42pm EDT
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By Karin Strohecker

VIENNA (Reuters) - Up to 5,000 people rallied in the Austrian capital on Tuesday to oppose deporting foreigners who have integrated well while waiting for years for a ruling on asylum requests but are eventually rejected.

Media coverage on emotive cases, such as a 15-year-old girl who went into hiding after her father and four siblings were returned to Kosovo last month, have prompted a debate about Austria's immigration law. A special parliamentary session has been scheduled for Wednesday.

In a video message on television last week, Arigona Zogaj -- who has been in Austria since 2002 -- threatened in a tearful voice to kill herself if her Kosovo Albanian family was not reunited.

"We are finally seeing the faces of this debate, the human beings behind the numbers," said David Mayrhofer, a 28-year-old psychology student as protesters called for the resignation of conservative Interior Minister Guenther Platter.

"It is inhuman to deport people who have been here for years, to rip them out of their surroundings, where they feel at home," Mayrhofer said.

An immigration law adopted in 2006 set stricter guidelines for foreigners seeking residency.

Platter and others say the legislation has cut the number of asylum applications lacking evidence of persecution and slowed an influx of economic migrants.

Critics say courts take so long - more than five years to rule in some cases - that applicants become rooted in Austria, put children in school, master German and get jobs or vocational training.

The Green party, whose supporters comprised most of the demonstrators, has requested a special session of parliament to debate the issue. Platter's opponents plan to call for a vote of no confidence in him.

"Families are torn apart and that is simply not tolerable," said 31-year-old charity worker Alice Uhl, as protesters walked past waving signs reading "Platter -- you have no heart".

"At the moment one really has to be ashamed to be Austrian."

A poll conducted for state broadcaster ORF released on Tuesday showed 48 percent of Austrians oppose automatic residency for asylum seekers whose cases have not been decided within five years while 38 percent favored it.

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