Austria calls for 'deportation centres' to host Afghans near Afghanistan

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Austrian Interior Minister Karl Nehammer speaks at a news conference on Austria's role in a global sting against organised crime dubbed 'Operation Trojan Shield' in Vienna, Austria June 9, 2021. REUTERS/Lisi Niesner

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VIENNA, Aug 16 (Reuters) - Austria, which has insisted that it plans to keep deporting illegal immigrants back to Afghanistan even as the Taliban seized Kabul, on Monday suggested setting up "deportation centres" in nearby countries as an alternative.

Chancellor Sebastian Kurz's conservatives have made a hard line on immigration central to their agenda, and they have won every parliamentary election since the 2015-2016 migration crisis, in which the small country took in more than one percent of its population in asylum seekers.

Austria was one of six European Union member states that warned the European Commission last week against halting the deportation of rejected Afghan asylum seekers arriving in Europe despite the Taliban's advances. Since then, three of the six - Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands - have reversed course. read more

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"If deportations are no longer possible because of the restrictions imposed on us by the European Convention on Human Rights, alternatives must be considered," Austrian Interior Minister Karl Nehammer said in a joint statement with Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg.

"Deportation centres in the region around Afghanistan would be one possibility. That requires the strength and support of the European Commission. I will suggest it at the council of interior ministers," Nehammer added, referring to an online meeting of EU interior ministers on Wednesday. read more

He and Schallenberg also suggested the meeting be expanded to include foreign ministers so as to coordinate policy on Afghanistan. Soon afterwards, however, the bloc's foreign policy chief called a foreign ministers' meeting on Afghanistan for Tuesday. read more

Kurz's conservatives govern in coalition with the left-wing Greens, many of whom oppose continuing deportations of Afghans. At the same time, the far-right Freedom Party has accused the conservatives of false firmness, saying Austria has not deported any Afghans in two months.

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Reporting by Francois Murphy; editing by David Evans

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