Beginning of June, Austria’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and Integration, Sebastian Kurz, proposed the “Australian model“ of interning migrants in offshore processing camps as a legitimate solution to the European refugee crisis. Even though this highly controversial policy has already been ruled out as an option by the European Commission last year, Kurz continues to plead for such a deterrent to be implemented on a EU-wide scale. Insisting on the adoption of such a blatant violention of the Geneva Convention ultimately disqualifies him as a serious advocate of integration.His radical stance, however, does not come as a surprise to someone who has been closely following Kurz’s domestic political career that, for the most part, has been failing to accommodate the needs of a modern and diverse society. When the State Secretary for Integration was created in 2011, 24-year old political newbie Sebastian Kurz was appointed to the post and thereby entrusted with one of the most delicate tasks Austrian interior politics has to offer. The country’s demographic composition is highly multicultural with almost one in five residents having been born outside the country. Given those realities, such an office had been long overdue. However, placing this kind of authority in the lap of an absolute beginner proved to be more than irresponsible. Thus, Sebastian Kurz’s first years in public service where marked by a number of ill-conceived and aimless attempts to boost his profile in order to dispatch himself from his “greenhorn“ image. In retrospect, one might assume that this office was merely founded to exclusively serve this purpose, considering that it was dissolved as soon as Sebastian Kurz was promoted three years later.
By 2013, Kurz had advanced to the position of Minister of Foreign Affairs and Integration – a job title that was supposed to merge his previous work with his new responsibilities. Indeed, his focus has clearly shifted towards his new duties while pressing matters of domestic relevance were gradually being pushed more and more into the background. A comprehensive refugee crisis can be partly held liable for Kurz’s changing priorities: in particular, the opportunity it presented for a low-profile politician to distinguish himself in the midst of a EU-wide strategic and humanitarian breakdown. With Austria taking a leading role, Sebastian Kurz gained political importance and became a global player whose actions would have a serious affect on the stream of refugees arriving in Europe. But instead of trying to find humane solutions to the crisis, to foster social inclusion and understanding as his job title “Minister of Integration“ might suggest, Sebastian Kurz and his advisory board continue to offer drastic approaches that would even leave the EU wondering.
Following the “Australian model“ would be just another ill-conceived idea proposed by an opportunist who is brazenly complying with rising anti-refugee sentiments across Europe. Such a method does not only dehumanize refugees, but also draws parallels to a practise Austria and Germany used to apply more than 70 years ago. It is time to realize that those people are not going anywhere except westward. Detaining them in offshore camps is only prolonging the problem. As Minister of Integration, Sebastian Kurz finally needs to step up and think about joint long-term solutions on how to substantially promote the inclusion of newcomers into our society. So far, his record is fairly dissappointing, clearly exposing him as a lousy advocate of integration. Not only domestically, but as recent efforts show, also globally.
Author: Tamara TANASIJEVIĆ, European Western Balkans Correspondent
Tamara Tanasijević is the European Western Balkans Correspondent. She graduated with a degree in languages and literature at the Department of Slavic Studies, University of Vienna in 2013. Currently, she is completing the Interdisciplinary Masters Programme in Southeastern European Studies, University of Graz, as an exchange student at the Faculty of Political Sciences in Belgrade.