The United Nations refugee agency said today that some proposed changes in asylum laws under study by the Austrian parliament this week, if passed unchanged, would be “among the most restrictive pieces of legislation” within the European Union.
In a press release issued today in Geneva the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said proposed regulations limiting the introduction of new evidence at the appeal stage could result in involuntary return of refugees to their home countries where they may face persecution.
“Victims of torture or of gender-based persecution including sexual assault, are often understandably hesitant to provide details of the ordeal they have suffered, either because of feelings of pain and humiliation or because of strong cultural or religious taboos,” the release said. “Under the amendment to the Austrian law only trauma that is ‘medically certifiable’ will be accepted as a reason for submitting new facts during the appeal stage – but trauma is a condition that is notoriously difficult to diagnose or measure.”
UNHCR legal expert Erika Feller said, “Appeals are an essential means to ensure that initial mistaken decisions can be corrected. To ensure that the final decision is indeed the correct one, appeals must be able to review all the relevant facts, as well as points of law.”
Under a second proposal, many appellants would not have a right to remain in Austria during the appeals procedure, which would have “disastrous consequences for the individuals concerned,” UNHCR said.
UNHCR added that “if the amendments – due to be decided on by a key Austrian parliamentary committee next week – are then adopted unchanged by parliament, they would be among the most restrictive pieces of legislation within the EU and could have a negative impact on the vital EU harmonization process that is currently under way.”