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Haider defends isolated criminal asylum camp

Carinthian BZÖ Governor Jörg Haider has confirmed that five adult refugees are currently being kept in a "special camp" for presumably-violent asylum seekers in Carinthia.

Human rights experts on Tuesday expressed concern about the special facility in Saualm alp, Völkermarkt District.

The building houses five men - three Georgians, one Kazakh and one Gambian - but has a capacity of 50 and has been in use for about a week, his office said. were

Haider said on Monday that the facility in a former childrens' home was a security measure to protect the people of Carinthia. "With this security precaution, we are protecting the Carinthian population," he said at a news conference on Monday. He added that the number of criminal asylum seekers was on the rise. Carinthia currently has about 900 asylum seekers.

The men are accused of various offences including property damage, grievous bodily harm and drug-smuggling. Some of them allegedly have hepatitis.

Haider’s spokesman Stefan Petzner said that the camp, at an altitude of 1,200 metres,  was "meant only for criminals" and not for sick people.

The "Asylkoordination Österreich" association has criticised Haider for "using defamatory speech" and "playing with links to the Nazis' policy of extermination."

Conviction was not a "mandatory prerequisite" for being sent to the facility, Haider's spokesman Stefan Petzner said. The inmates would be "under constant observation so that no criminal acts can be committed," he added.

But he said no one's rights were being violated.

He would not provide specific details on the five in the facility, but confirmed a media report that the men are asylum seekers from Georgia, Kazakhstan and Gambia. He did say some in the group had been convicted, but did not say of what.

The building is in a secluded pasture at an altitude of about 1,200 meters.

"It's a perfectly normal establishment far away from civilization in a secluded area so they can't get up to anything," said Petzner. "You shouldn't think of this as a prison surrounded by barbed wire."

Human rights experts are not convinced.

"The whole thing sounds strongly like banishment," said Heinz Patzelt, head of Austria's chapter of Amnesty International. "There's no place for that in a modern system with a rule of law."

Roland Schönbauer, officer-in-charge of the Vienna branch of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, said his office had asked Carinthian authorities to provide details about the conditions in the facility and those working there.

Schönbauer said he was not familiar with the cases of the five people already there. However, since they were not in jail, one had to assume they have not been convicted, he said.

"The presumption of innocence applies to everyone who has not been convicted and a certain governor has to respect that," Schönbauer said.

Schönbauer also criticised the practice — by Haider and others — of associating asylum seekers with crime.

"The repeated and constant linkage of asylum seekers with crime by leading politicians is extremely worrying as it leads to a general criminalization of asylum seekers in public and undermines the integration of those who get refugee status," he said.

Haider, who is also leader of the far-right Alliance for the Future of Austria, has in the past caused international consternation by making statements seen as anti-Semitic or sympathetic to Adolf Hitler's labor policies. In 1999, when he was leader of the Freedom Party, it won 27 per cent of the vote.

He has since portrayed himself as more moderate but continues to have a steady following, especially in Carinthia. Two weeks ago, the Alliance got 10.7 percent of the vote in nationwide parliamentary elections.

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