On 14-16 October, the LCHR in cooperation with the Austrian NGO Human Rights Association (Verein Menschenrechte Österreich) organized a study visit to Austria in the framework of the project „Developing good practices: promoting compliance with the Return Directive in Latvia, Lithuania and Slovakia”. The study visit has brought together 10 return practitioners: the national authorities (the Ministry of Interior, the border guard, the immigration police and the Ombudsman’s Offices) as well as NGOs from Latvia, Lithuania and Slovakia. The Latvian delegation was represented by the LCHR, the State Border Guard and the Office of Citizenship and Migration Affairs.
The objective of the study visit was to learn the Austrian experience in forced return monitoring, which is conducted by the Human Rights Association since 2001, and the Austrian Ombudsman Board (National Preventive Mechanism according to OPCAT). The study visitors also learned other good practices of the implementation of the Return Directive (2008/115/EC), including return of vulnerable groups and alternatives to detention (family unit Zinnergasse).
The participants had the following meetings and visits:
- Meetings with the NGO Verein Menschenrechte Österreich, which informed on its extensive experience on immigration issues, including monitoring forced return, assisted voluntary return, social work and legal counselling to detainees;
- A meeting with representatives from the Federal Agency for Alien Affairs and Asylum (BFA), which is responsible for return management, including monitoring forced return;
- A visit to a special police unit EKO Cobra, which is responsible for implementation of BFA’s forced return decisions and escorting the returnees, and learning the issues of use of force as the last resort in forced return operations;
- A visit to airport (Terminal 240 - special terminal for forced return and a holding facility for asylum seekers in a transit area);
- A visit to the Police Detention Centre Rossauer Lände;
- A visit to family unit Zinnergasse, including the places of short-term detention (up to 72 hours) with a very low security level and open accommodation facilities for families with children and unaccompanied minors (lenient measures);
- A meeting with a representative from the Austrian Ombudsman Board, who shared its experience of forced return monitoring and the core problematic issues related to forced return;
- A meeting with the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA), which provided the overview of international and European standards related to forced return monitoring and informed the participants about the FRA’s activities.
The study visit has to the large extent promoted exchange of various return practices among the return practitioners and human rights observers.
Project is co-financed by the European Union under the European Return Fund - Community Actions 2012