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Austrian Government violated Muslim children’s rights during police raids, say NGOs

9th Apr 2021

Elham Asaad Buaras

Austria’s Interior Minister is accused of failing to protect children from criminalisation and trauma following police raids on Muslim homes in the aftermath of a terror attack in Vienna last November. In an open letter to Karl Nehammer, lawyers and civil rights NGOs are demanding that an investigation be launched into the raids and that the responsible authorities be held to account.

On November 11, more than 930 police officers launched 60 dawn raids on Muslim homes of Egyptians and Palestinians, which did not lead to a single charge or arrest nor seizure of weapons. The raids on homes occurred just over a week after a series of shootings in Vienna in which four people were killed and 23 others were injured. The attacker was killed by police and was identified as an ISIS sympathiser. Austria’s right-wing Government subsequently announced a range of anti-terrorism measures and pledged to ban “political Islam”.

However, according to the Assisting Children Traumatised by Police (ACT-P) NGO, during the raids 62 children were traumatised and victimised.

It said 93.8 percent of children reported suffering from ongoing psychological trauma as a result of the raids, with some even showing early signs of post-traumatic stress disorder. Parents have reported that their children continue to have severe nightmares and suffer from insomnia and scream as well as cry at night.

One affected boy said, “I was scared, panicked, shocked…everything. I wake up and someone is pointing a gun at me and yelling at me…” A young girl said, “I have never felt so unsafe in my life, especially in my own house.”

The letter was initiated by the ACT-P and signed by Black Voices People’s Petition, and the Austrian National Youth Council, among others.

It states, “We write to you as civil society actors, as well as legal representatives of those impacted by Operation Luxor (the raids) in order to raise concerns about legal violations – especially children’s rights violations. The families of the innocent people that have been violated during this operation and indeed the public at large, have a right to know the facts in relation to the conduct of the operation and its conformity to Austrian and international law. We demand accountability of those responsible for their neglect of obligations to protect children from criminalisation and trauma”.

A spokesperson of ACT-P added, “This is a critical moment for the protection of children’s rights in Austria, and it is up to us to act now to stop further rights violations and ensure justice for our children. The child rights violations, which in this case exclusively belong to a religious minority, appear to have been the result of a state-directed racist and Islamophobic campaign and are incompatible with human rights and democratic principles.”

There are around 700,000 Muslims in Austria out of a total population of 8 million people. Around 50 per cent of them are of Turkish origin and a sizeable community from the former Yugoslavia. Recently, Austria has taken several anti-Muslim measures. In 2015, when current Chancellor, Sebastian Kurz, was Austria’s Minister for Europe, he backed 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. He also said the move was a crackdown on “political Islam”.

In 2017, the Austrian Government issued a new law banning Muslim women from wearing full-face veils in public places. The niqab ban states that the face must be visible in public places and includes off-slope ski and surgical masks outside hospitals. Muslim women wearing the niqab in public places can be fined €150.

Furthermore, in 2019 the Austrian Parliament approved a law banning girls in primary schools from wearing the hijab. The law received support from the governing coalition of Kurz’s conservative People’s Party (ÖVP) and the far-right Freedom Party (FPÖ), while almost all the opposition voted against it.

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