The Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Dunja Mijatović, published today the report following her visit to Austria carried out in December 2021, with recommendations on improving the reception and integration of refugees, asylum seekers and migrants and on strengthening women’s rights and gender equality.
To address shortcomings in reception conditions, the authorities should “adopt harmonised standards regarding reception centres and cooperate with the provinces in order to ensure that reception conditions do not vary between facilities and to avoid overcrowding and lengthy stays in certain federal structures”, the Commissioner says. “Particular attention should be paid to the specific needs of vulnerable people, especially unaccompanied children; and to ensuring that asylum seekers have effective access to education and employment”, she adds while also emphasising the importance of strengthening independent and quality legal counselling by legally safeguarding the structural and functional independence of the competent federal agency.
In the field of integration, the Commissioner invites the authorities to speed up family reunification procedures for unaccompanied children, provide beneficiaries of subsidiary protection with the same favourable rules as refugees, and ease access to long-term residence and to citizenship. “In view of the worrying deterioration of the climate prevailing in Austria towards asylum seekers, refugees and migrants, I urge the authorities to raise awareness about existing measures to combat hate speech and hate crime and ensure their effective and prompt implementation.”
Concerned about credible allegations of pushbacks pointing to the existence of an established practice, the Commissioner urges the authorities to ensure that independent and effective investigations are carried out into allegations of pushbacks and of ill-treatment by members of security forces during these alleged pushbacks, and to put an end to these practices.
In the field of women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights, the Commissioner calls on the authorities to complement the sexuality education curricula and to subsidise counselling on contraception and contraceptives, and cover them under public health insurance or reimbursement schemes, or provide them free of charge. The Commissioner also notes that several factors render access to abortion services difficult in practice. “I urge the authorities to cover the costs of abortion care under public health insurance, and to ensure effective access to abortion services throughout the country.”
The Commissioner further calls on the authorities to step up policies to protect women and prevent and prosecute all forms of violence against them. “The high level of various forms of violence against women is concerning and requires resolute measures to improve the response of the justice system to acts of violence against women including by building trust between police and victims and improving the prosecution and conviction rates in such cases.” She also calls on the authorities to raise awareness about the means provided by the legislative package on online hate to victims of digital violence against women, and to safeguard the best interests of the child, including by ensuring that custody rules protect children from any violent parent. “The improvements needed in the fields of awareness-raising, prevention, training, repression, shelters, and legal and psychosocial support to victims, require a significant increase in the federal and provincial budgets related to the fight against all forms of violence against women”, she underscores.
As regards gender equality, the Commissioner urges the authorities to address the gender pay gap and gender pension gap as matters of priority and calls on the federal and provincial authorities to significantly improve the availability of high-quality childcare support to facilitate women’s re-entry into the labour market.