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Archive for the ‘Bavaria Land of Austria’ Category

Avalanche risk in Austria grows as snowfall continues

January 09, 2019

BERLIN (AP) — Austrian authorities are issuing the highest avalanche warning possible for several regions, while more than 350 residents in Bavaria were snowed in and a teacher was killed while skiing in the Alps.

At least 14 weather-related deaths have been reported in Europe over the last week. Schools remained closed in parts of Austria and southern Germany on Wednesday, several roads and highways were blocked leading to a 20-kilometer (12.4-mile) traffic jam near Munich and trucks had to deliver food to the snowed-in Bavarian community Buchenhoehe near Berchtesgarden as snow continued falling across the northern Alps.

Austrian news agency APA reported that a 62-year-old teacher was killed while skiing in Mariazeller Buergeralpe in Austria when he fell and got buried in a snowbank. Many slopes have been closed as a precaution.

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Refugee teens in Austrian schools straddle different worlds

December 09, 2018

VIENNA (AP) — Lilas Almalaki didn’t know a word of German when she enrolled in an Austrian middle school two months after fleeing her war-torn homeland in 2015, so she relied on the proficient English she learned as a top student in Syria to keep the bullies in place.

Hassan Husseini didn’t speak German either and had never spent a day in a classroom when he arrived as an Afghan refugee the same year. He had a tougher time when picked on. Despite their differences, the two teens share the same challenge. Like the nearly 10,000 other school-age children who arrived in Austria during Europe’s largest modern influx of refugees, school is where they must learn to bridge different worlds: one that has shaped their families and identities, and the other where they hope to prosper in peace.

But they entered schools already straining to cope with large numbers of children born in Austria to migrant parents who are still struggling with basic German. That difficulty has deepened local anxieties over integration and helped propel the far right into Austria’s new government.

Immigration and the integration of 2.5 million people who the European Union says sought asylum in 2015 and 2016 are issues across Europe. On the front lines are the schools, where teachers, administrators, psychologists and parents are clashing over the future of the next generation.

“The children are living in two worlds,” says Andrea Walach, the principal at Hassan’s middle school in Vienna, where only seven of more than 200 students speak German at home. “One world is school … but when they are at home, all of this is forgotten.”

In 2015, nearly 90,000 asylum-seekers — mostly from Afghanistan and Syria, and a third of them younger than 18 — arrived in Austria, a nation of less than 9 million people. Today, 51 percent of the quarter-million students in Vienna’s schools speak languages other than German in their daily life, according a 2018 report. That includes 34,000 pupils who don’t understand enough German to follow their teachers, the Education Ministry says.

That number goes up to more than 70 percent in vocational middle schools like Hassan’s, pathways to apprenticeships in trades that must accept anyone who applies. The other option is an academic school like the one Lilas attends, which restricts admissions.

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz’s center-right People’s Party and junior coalition nationalist Freedom Party campaigned on tougher immigration controls. His government has also rejected a global migration pact that is being approved this week at a U.N. conference in Morocco.

The government has also changed the way it handles children who struggle with German. In the past, students not proficient in German had been exempt from grading for up to two years in all subjects. Now, any new students struggling with German are taken out of regular classes, except physical education and the arts, and put into their own language-intensive programs.

Critics say separating students fuels discrimination and prevents them from learning from their peers. Proponents counter that socialization can’t happen if kids can’t talk to one another, so this speeds up eventual integration.

Integration in schools is a crucial matter, child development experts say, because that’s where migrant children learn what their new society expects of them — which greatly affects how well they will do as adults. That means the debate over how to best teach migrant children is not just about language, it is also about bridging sometimes widely diverging cultures.

Austrian education ministry official Martin Netzer says the priority, along with German proficiency, is “to make sure that our basic values are accepted and that there is understanding on both sides.”

Research by Greek professor Frosso Motti-Stefanidi suggests that children do best when schools and parents together help them adapt to a new culture while integrating familiar values. But Walach and other educators say they often struggle to explain to parents — many of them illiterate — the basic importance of schooling as a pathway to a better life.

“Nobody asks if (their kids) have been to school, did do your homework, when is your next test?” Walach said. Psychologists on 25 “mobile intercultural teams” deployed across Austria in the wake of the refugee influx were trying to close gaps between schools and parents, but they expect to be disbanded when the school year ends due to budget cuts.

For both the new arrivals and the many teens born in Austria to migrant families, integration remains a daily challenge. In Simmering, a diverse neighborhood on Vienna’s outskirts, 16-year-old Seray Aytar and Melek Karakoc are thriving in their academically-oriented school, despite belonging to the 65 percent of students there who speak languages other than German at home, according to principal Claudia Valsky.

The two best friends, born in Austria, were raised by women who, despite coming from Turkey as teens, still can’t manage basic German. Whether in class in Austria or on vacation in Turkey, Seray and Melek feel caught between two uncomprehending worlds.

“We don’t know where our home is anymore,” Seray says in flawless English, and Melek nods. Lilas and her mother decided to flee Damascus when a car bomb went off in front of her school. After that, Syria no longer feels like home, the 16-year-old says. But it remains a “second mother,” she adds — so she insists on speaking Arabic at home, while her mom would like Lilas to speak more German so her own fluency can improve.

Lilas’ ease with languages and her academic talent have been her ticket to the demanding school she attends, along with only 8 percent of Vienna’s refugee school kids. She recalls how in her first Austrian school, when she tried to answer a teacher’s question in halting German, a boy laughed at her.

“I can’t talk German, but I can talk English and you can’t, so what are you laughing at?” she retorted in English. She was so talented in English at that her classmates started asking for help. “I helped them, and then they were nice to me,” she says.

Even though he had had no formal education, Hassan knows that going to school is the key to his dream of working with robots and buying a car and a house in the Austrian countryside. He arrived with his mother and the younger sister he carried piggyback through Iran, Turkey and into Europe, and he is leveraging that dangerous ordeal to produce success at school.

“Our teacher has assigned me (to compete) in the fast running contest. I always win first place. My teacher encourages me,” he says proudly in his native Dari language. “Because we were walking all the way, our bodies got hardened.”

Hassan’s physique makes him stand out in a classroom. Now he figures improving his German will get him more friends, so he always comes to school, even when he doesn’t want to. “Sometimes I have a lot of fun with the boys and I play with them very much. Sometimes I’m really very serious,” he says, before excusing himself to get back to class.

Austria says it won’t sign UN global migration pact

October 31, 2018

BERLIN (AP) — The Austrian government said Wednesday that it won’t sign a global compact to promote safe and orderly migration, citing concerns about national sovereignty as it joined neighboring Hungary in shunning the agreement.

Conservative Chancellor Sebastian Kurz took office last December in a coalition with the nationalist, anti-migration Freedom Party. Austria currently holds the European Union’s rotating presidency, and Kurz has made curbing unregulated migration a priority.

The Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration, which won’t be legally binding, was finalized under U.N. auspices in July. It is due to be formally approved at a Dec. 11-12 meeting in Marrakech, Morocco.

Kurz and Vice Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache said Austria won’t sign the document or send an official representative to Marrakech. They cited, among other things, fears about a possible watering-down of the distinction between legal and illegal migration.

“There are some points that we view critically and where we fear a danger to our national sovereignty,” Kurz said, the Austria Press Agency reported. “Migration is not and cannot become a human right,” added Strache, the Freedom Party’s leader. “It cannot be that someone receives a right to migration because of the climate or poverty.”

In September 2016, all 193 U.N. member states, including the United States under President Barack Obama, adopted a declaration saying no country can manage international migration on its own, and agreed to launch a process leading to the adoption of a global compact in 2018.

But last December, the United States said it was ending its participation in negotiations on the compact, stating that numerous provisions were “inconsistent with U.S. immigration and refugee policies” under President Donald Trump.

In July, Hungary said it would withdraw from the process. Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto said then that the pact was contrary to his country’s interests because while it had some positive aims, like fighting human trafficking, overall it considered migration an unstoppable and positive phenomenon worthy of support.

The compact has 23 objectives that seek to boost cooperation to manage migration and numerous actions ranging from technical issues like the portability of earnings by migrant workers to reducing the detention of migrants.

Austria’s interior minister, Herbert Kickl, denounced what he called “an almost irresponsibly naive pro-migration tone.” Kickl contended that “it is simply not clear whether this pact, if we were to join it, would not at some point or somehow influence our body of law, even by the back door.”

Austria’s opposition criticized the decision. In Brussels, Natasha Bertaud, a spokeswoman for the EU’s executive Commission, said it regrets Austria’s decision and is seeking more details from Vienna.

“We continue to believe that migration is a global challenge where only global solutions and global responsibility-sharing will bring results,” she said at a regular briefing. EU heavyweight Germany reaffirmed its support for the pact, which foreign ministry spokesman Rainer Breul said is “necessary and important.”

Lorne Cook in Brussels and Pablo Gorondi in Budapest contributed to this report.

Erdogan slams Austria for shutting mosques

09.06.2018

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Saturday criticized Austrian Prime Minister Sebastian Kurz for its government’s decision to shut down seven mosques and expel 40 imams.

“I am afraid that the steps taken by the Austrian prime minister would bring the world closer to a crusader-crescent war,” said Erdogan during an iftar dinner organized in Istanbul.

Erdogan said Turkey would respond to the decision of expelling imams as well.

During a news conference with Vice Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache and EU Affairs Minister Gernot Blumel, Kurz said the move came as part of a crackdown on “political Islam”.

Kurz said that the investigation on several mosques and associations conducted by the Ministry of Interior and Office of Religious Affairs had been concluded and that the activities of seven mosques were found to be forbidden — one of them belonging to the Turkish-Islamic Cultural Associations (ATIB).

The Austrian chancellor added that the imams would be deported on grounds of being foreign funded.

In 2015 when Kurz was Austria’s minister for Europe, integration and foreign affairs he backed Austria’s “law on Islam” (Islamgesetz) — legislation that, among other things, banned the foreign funding of mosques and imams in Austria. The controversial law, which eventually passed through parliament, was intended to develop an Islam of “European character”, according to Kurz.

“We act decisively and actively against undesirable developments and the formation of #parallelsocieties — and will continue to do so if there are violations of the #law on Islam,” Kurz wrote on his Twitter account.

Crackdown on terrorism

Erdogan also promised to eliminate terrorism completely.

The president said being Kurd and being terrorist were “completely different things”.

Erdogan said that while the government was trying to involve Kurdish people in society, terrorists continued to occupying neighborhoods.

“When guns are fired, words fail. That is why our fight against terrorism will continue until the last terrorist is neutralized,” he said.

Erdogan then recalled the murder of Kurdish teen Yasin Boru.

“Was not Yasin Boru a Kurdish teen? 15-16 years old. What was he doing? Delivering aid to Kurdish people in need. They killed him viciously. Who were they? So-called Kurds. They were not. They were terrorists,” he said.

On Oct. 5, 2014, 16-year-old Yasin Boru and his friends, Ahmet Dakak, Riyat Gunes and Hasan Gokguz, who were distributing food aid to Syrian refugees, were chased down and lynched by alleged pro-PKK supporters on the second day of Eid al-Adha.

Source: Anadolu Agency.

Link: https://www.aa.com.tr/en/europe/erdogan-slams-austria-for-shutting-mosques/1170536.

Putin dances at Austria wedding before meeting Merkel

August 18, 2018

BERLIN (AP) — Russian President Vladimir Putin made a flying visit to Austria to attend the wedding of the country’s foreign minister Saturday before heading to Berlin for talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Austrian authorities imposed tight security measures around the site of the ceremony near the southern border with Slovenia, where Foreign Minister Karin Kneissl married her partner Wolfgang Meilinger, a businessman. Kneissl, an independent, was nominated by the pro-Russia Austrian Freedom Party, whose leaders also attended the wedding.

Photos showed Putin dancing with the bride, who was dressed in traditional Austrian costume. According to Austrian public broadcaster ORF, Putin also brought a small Cossack men’s choir along to entertain about 100 guests at the wedding.

Austrian lawmaker Joerg Leichtfried of the opposition Social Democratic Party criticized Kneissl’s decision to invite Putin to the wedding, saying it called into question Austria’s role as a neutral intermediary in the conflict in eastern Ukraine, where Russia-backed rebels are battling government forces. Austria currently holds the European Union’s rotating presidency.

Putin’s meeting with Merkel late Saturday takes place at the German government’s guesthouse in Meseberg, north of Berlin. Topics during the bilateral talks include Ukraine, Syria and the planned Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline from Russia to Germany that the United States and some European countries object to.

The two leaders were scheduled to make statements before the talks, but there were no plans for a news conference afterward.

Austria takes over EU presidency with pledge for security

June 30, 2018

BERLIN (AP) — Austria has taken over the rotating presidency of the European Union with a pledge to better secure the 28-nation bloc’s external borders. At a ceremony Saturday outside the Alpine town of Schladming, Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said the six-month presidency is “an honor for us, but also a great responsibility.”

Kurz says “we know that the international environment is difficult right now.” Kurz came to power last year as the head of a right-wing coalition government with a pledge to restrict migration to Austria.

He supports setting up landing points for migrants outside the EU and strengthening the bloc’s Frontex border agency. EU Council President Donald Tusk praised the Austrian motto for its presidency, “a Europe that protects.”

Italy, Austria signal new hard-line axis on migration

June 20, 2018

MILAN (AP) — A meeting of Italy’s anti-migrant interior minister with like-minded Austrian populist leaders on Wednesday in Rome heralded a new hard-line axis forming in Europe on migration issues with pledges to more firmly protect Europe’s southern border.

Italy’s interior minister, Matteo Salvini, leveraged on his recent refusal to allow landfall in Sicily to a ship carrying some 630 migrants rescued at sea off the Libyan coast. The new Socialist government in Spain agreed to take them in, acknowledging Europe had abandoned Italy, after the tiny island nation of Malta also balked.

“It is a historic moment because Europe has never had the possibility to change like in these days. We think it can change for the better on the topics of immigration, security and the fight against terrorism. Finally there is a decision to protect the exterior border,” Salvini said.

Salvini and his Austrian counterparts — vice chancellor Heinz Christian Strache and interior minister Herbert Kickl — signaled their common approach to reinforcing the exterior border while deferring specifics to Austria’s EU presidency, and other forums, including an upcoming EU summit. Salvini said he was briefing Premier Conte and vice premier Luigi Di Maio on his proposals later in the day.

But Salvini made clear that he would continue to press neighbors to do more. While welcoming Spain’s acceptance of the migrants, he noted that Spain has only taken 235 of an agreed-upon EU quota of 3,265. “They can take the next four boats that arrive,” he said. He also slammed France, which has only taken 640 of the 9,800 migrants it has pledged to receive.

Salvini said he had trust in the Austrian EU presidency to make a difference in discussions about changing the Dublin accords, noting “the mood has changed,” but also hinting that Italy would be willing to play hardball, and hold back payments to the EU, if significant changes were not made.

Salvini said he wanted to see EU funds better spent, and said he would travel to Libya, the main departure point for migrants heading to Italy, in the coming days to work on stemming the migrant tide as well as economic development issues.

While more than 640,000 migrants have arrived in Italy since 2014, the number of arrivals in Italy this year is down over 80 percent, to over 14,500. Austria’s interior minister, Kickl, said the message had to go out “that those who rely on traffickers have given up all chances of asylum in Europe.”

Kickl said they were examining the possibility of setting up centers in the Balkans for asylum-seekers whose applications have been rejected, saying “if they stay in the country, there is no difference between a negative and a positive response.”

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