The Austrian government should keep the protection of refugees at the centre of draft amendments to an asylum law presented in the country, according to the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR).

In a juridical analysis on draft amendments to Austria’s asylum law, UNHCR expressed “concern” about the recent proposed amendments to Austria’s asylum law, including the proposed seizure of cash and electronic devices carried by asylum seekers and the prolonged wait required before refugees can apply for Austrian citizenship.

“UNHCR is worried about the recent proposed amendments to Austria’s asylum law, and their potential impact on asylum-seekers and refugees,” said Christoph Pinter, the head of UNHCR in Austria.

“In addition, despite Austria’s existing solid asylum system containing safeguards against abuse, a number of the draft amendments are seemingly based on the assumption that people are seeking to abuse the asylum system,” he added. “This risks negatively impacting public discourse and making refugee integration more difficult.”

As reported by the Italian press agency ANSA, the UNHCR explained in a statement that is was particularly worried by the proposed seizure of cash of up to €840 upon arrival in Austria if an asylum-seeker is carrying more than €120.

“’Under the current law, only asylum-seekers with financial difficulties receive financial support. If asylum-seekers have enough resources, it goes without saying that they should provide for themselves. However, there is a big difference between a request to contribute to or provide for food and rent, and the actual confiscation of money through coercive measures,” said Pinter. “People who have lost almost everything through war or who have been at the mercy of smugglers should not be subjected to such a treatment.”

UNHCR also warned against the proposed “far-reaching power of authorities” to search for and seize electronic devices. “This is a highly intrusive measure that should only be conducted when strictly necessary, with the requisite safeguards.”

As regards citizenship rules, UNHCR said it is concerned because “despite already having one of the European Union’s tightest nationality laws, in the draft proposal refugees would have to wait at least 10 years instead of the current 6, before being able to apply for Austrian citizenship”.