In a surprising turn of events, Austria’s foreign minister Alexander Schallenberg has hailed migrants as a boon for the European Union, saying that they contribute to the diversity and prosperity of the bloc. Schallenberg, who is known for his hard-line stance on immigration, reportedly made the remarks during a meeting with his counterparts from Morocco, Tunisia, India and Serbia.
“Migrants are not a burden, but a blessing for our governments,” Schallenberg said, according to a leaked transcript of the meeting. “They enrich our cultures, stimulate our economies and challenge our perspectives. We are grateful for their presence and welcome them with open arms.”
Schallenberg’s comments have stunned many observers, who wonder whether the conservative politician has had a change of heart or a lapse of judgment. Just last month, Austria launched a series of advertisements to deter potential migrants from countries including Morocco, Tunisia, India and Serbia, warning them that they would fail if they tried to enter the country illegally.
The anti-immigration campaign was part of Austria’s crackdown on asylum-seekers, which has been criticized by human rights activists and NGOs. Austria’s asylum system is “almost at a breaking point,” according to Interior Minister Gerhard Karner, who announced that some 42,000 applications for asylum had been filed between January and July 2022.
Some analysts have speculated that Schallenberg’s remarks may be a strategic move to appease the countries that are the main sources of migration to Europe, and to secure their cooperation in stemming the flow of irregular migrants. Others have suggested that Schallenberg may be trying to soften his image ahead of the upcoming elections, in which he faces a challenge from the far-right Freedom Party.
Whatever the motive, Schallenberg’s statements have sparked a mixed reaction online, with some netizens praising him for his openness and tolerance, and others accusing him of hypocrisy and betrayal. As the debate rages on, one thing is clear: Austria’s position on migration is anything but consistent, and may change depending on the audience and the occasion.