Austria tries paying migrants to leave. The results are mixed

Austria hasn’t been a nation which has been particularly welcoming to the flood of largely Muslim refugees and migrants who have been streaming into Europe. A couple of years ago when the crisis was really kicking into high gear (thanks to ISIS for the most part), Austrians responded in droves by purchasing every shotgun for sale in the country. Earlier this year, faced with camps full of people who had failed to qualify for refugee status, the government moved to give them a bit stronger hint by refusing to provide any food to them. Then, when the EU was setting up “mandatory” quotas for migrants to be accepted by member nations, Austria told them that they weren’t interested in participating.

But even for all of those efforts, Austria still has a fair number of migrants camped out on their turf. In a rather unusual bit of strategy, they tried something new. The government offered to pay them cash if they would pack up and leave. Some took them up on the offer, but thus far the numbers have been far lower than what the government would have liked to see. (Associated Press)

Austria’s Interior Ministry says that 427 migrants have taken advantage of a 1,000-euro ($1,160) premium if they go back to their homeland since the initiative was put into place, but the overall number of voluntary returnees has fallen.

The ministry said 1,855 people overall returned over the first five months of the year, 64 percent less than over the same period last year.

The cash for return offer was launched three months ago. The ministry said Friday that most of those making use of it come from Iraq, Afghanistan or Iran.

A thousand Euros may not sound like a lot in terms of getting someone to relocate, but it’s actually a fairly hefty sum in that region. That’s about a month’s wages in Austria for most of the lower to middle class. And it’s more than three months worth of salary for the vast majority of Iraqis (which is where a lot of these migrants are from). With ISIS largely in retreat and parts of the country returning to some version of normal, you might think that the migrants in Austria who are already being made to feel decidedly unwelcome might jump at that amount of cash if it gave them a nice head start back home.

That’s particularly true when you consider that incidents of firebombings and other attacks on migrant residence centers have been on the rise all year.

Attacks on refugee accommodation have doubled in Austria, seeing homes firebombed, vandals spray Nazi graffiti on walls and a man threaten to “get a gun and shoot the dogs”…

Among the incidents was a firebombing that saw two Molotov cocktails launched at a refugee home in Himberg, Lower Austria, in November. It was one of several reported arsons, including a fire in Rohrbach, Upper Austria, in June, which damaged one accommodation centre so badly it had to be evacuated and rebuilt.

Police said refugees were put at severe risk in August when assailants broke into a storage unit and cut a gas supply hose “to cause a leak” that went unnoticed for more than a week.

Now the Austrian government is talking about doubling the amount of the reward being offered for those who are willing to go home. It’s a considerably less “democratic” approach than you’ll generally find in the west, but it may soon turn into a deal that migrants won’t be able to refuse. It’s also one more sign of the growing schism in the European Union over what to do with all of these people.