Protesters hold banners showing portraits of Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz of the People's Party and vice-chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache, in Vienna, December 18 2017. Picture: REUTERS
Protesters hold banners showing portraits of Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz of the People's Party and vice-chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache, in Vienna, December 18 2017. Picture: REUTERS

Zurich — The head of Austrian junior coalition partner and far-right Freedom party pledged on Sunday to fight “creeping Islamisation”, doubling down on his anti-immigration stance ahead of European elections on May 23.

Heinz-Christian Strache, who serves as Austria’s vice-chancellor, insisted he would not stop referring to immigration as “population displacement”, a term used by far-right groups in Austria that want to reverse the inflow of newcomers into the country.

Most polls in Austria show the Freedom party in third place, with its senior coalition partner, the Conservative Austrian People's Party, in first and the opposition Social Democrats in second place.

“There is a creeping Islamisation, a population change, or a population displacement,” Strache told Austrian newspaper OE.24.

Critics counter this view with government data on immigration, which shows that in 2018 roughly 16% of Austria’s population has foreign citizenship, up from 10% a decade earlier.

Austria’s public broadcaster has compared anti-immigrant posters created by the youth wing of the Freedom party to Nazi propaganda, while the vice-mayor of the Austrian town where Adolf Hitler was born resigned from the party after writing a poem comparing migrants to rats.

Anti-immigration sentiment in Austria was stoked during Europe’s migration crisis, during which thousands of migrants passed through the country on their way to other EU states such as Sweden and Germany. Many of them were Syrian war refugees. Austria took in asylum seekers numbering the equivalent of about 1% of its population during the 2015 crisis.

“It is our goal to correct the legacy of the previous government's immigration policy and to stop immigration from Islamic countries and promote integration,” Strache told the newspaper.
Reuters