Josef Fritzl house offered as accommodation for refugees
Move indicative of pressure on officials as thousands of migrants arrive in country
The house where Josef Fritzl imprisoned his daughter in a cellar for 24 years and fathered seven children with her. Photograph: Getty Images
The house in Amstetten, 90 minutes west of Vienna, could do with a lick of paint on its grey concrete facade. But the reason it failed to sell for €200,000 was not its appearance, but its history.
Below this house is where 80-year-old Josef Fritzl locked his daughter Elizabeth in a hidden cellar for 24 years.
With Fritzl behind bars and deep in debt, his insolvency attorney has cancelled the sale and instead offered to rent it out as emergency accommodation.
“We’ve rid the house of all terrible memories and is available as accommodation for refugees,” said Walter Anzböck. “Some 50 people could move to Amstetten immediately.”
Local officials have yet to make a final decision on the house that gave up its terrible secret in 2008. The fact that they didn’t dismiss the offer out of hand is an indication of the pressure in Austria to cope with thousands of people from Syria, the Balkans and elsewhere, who are streaming across its borders daily.
More than 20,000 people, packed into buses and trains, entered Austria over the weekend alone. Some 7,000 alone landed in the village of Nickelsdorf on the Austrian border with Hungary.
The Austrian Red Cross has warned that emergency accommodation is rapidly filling up.
Ahead of another refugee crisis meeting in Brussels on Tuesday, Austrian interior minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner has announced plans to introduce time-limited asylum status, allowing applications to be reviewed after three years.
Such a measure was already possible, said Mikl-Leitner from the centre-right People’s Party (ÖVP).
“But from an optional guideline we will make an obligatory guideline,” she said.
Right-wing populistsUpper Austria
FPÖ leader Heinz-Christian Strache has tapped into the pessimistic public mood – some 70 per cent favour closing Austria’s borders – by warning that the continued unchecked arrival of refugees threatens Austria’s democratic order.
“Our population has the right to protect its interests,” he said, “and, rightly, they don’t want to become strangers in their own country”.
The tough FPÖ line has forced other parties on the defensive, in particular the centre-right ÖVP. Alongside its time-limited asylum proposal, the ÖVP has attacked other European countries for introducing “asylum a la carte”: disregarding the EU’s Dublin rules and allowing refugees to pass through their territory to file an application in another country of their choice.
The growing crisis has put Austria’s Social Democrat (SPÖ) chancellor Werner Faymann on the defensive, too. On Wednesday in Brussels he will repeat his demand for binding refugee quotas at an EU leaders summit. On Monday, he backed his coalition partner’s proposal to review after three years the reasons for an asylum application.
“It sends a clear signal that we will look again to see if a war still is taking place or if the reasons for asylum still exist,” said Faymann.
Political observers say the refugee crisis has played into the hands of the the FPÖ and its traditional anti-immigration political platform.
“They don’t have to do anything to put it on the agenda,” said Prof Peter Filzmaier of the University of Graz to public broadcaster ORF. “A consequence of the refugee debate is that it emotionalises and mobilises.”
A month after Austrian police discovered 71 dead refugees in a truck near Vienna, authorities have registered 1,500 cases of suspected people smuggling cases so far in September alone – compared to 1,100 for all of 2014.
So far this month more than 5,000 asylum applications have been filed in Austria, up almost 80 per cent on the last quarter. With a population roughly twice the size of Ireland’s, Austria is braced for at least 20 times the 4,000 refugees and asylum-seekers Ireland has agreed to accept in 2015.