‘Smugglers lie! No asylum!’ Austrian govt buys up billboards in Afghanistan

© Michaela Rehle
Austria is the latest country to run a large-scale advertising campaign to deter asylum seekers from attempting to visit. Planned in in five biggest Afghan cities, the campaign follows an explosion in applications from the country last year.

The campaign will feature giant billboards, posters plastered on the sides of buses, and banner ads on more than 1,000 popular local websites. The campaign is expected to cost a modest €10,000 ($10,867), and will feature translated slogans such as “no asylum in Austria for economic reasons!” and “smugglers lie! Inform yourself!”

“The federal government has an upper limit of 37,500 asylum requests this year. In order to get to this number it is necessary to reduce the influx of refugees,” said Interior Minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner, of the ruling conservative Austrian People's Party.

“It's only a question of fairness to tell people in their home countries about the strict asylum laws in Austria.”

More than 25,500 people from Afghanistan, predominantly working-age men, filed for asylum in Austria last year – more than a quarter of the total number of refugees. Late last year, the country tightened its regulations on admission and family reunification, as public opinion turned against incomers, particularly in view of high-profile cases, such as the rape of a 72-year-old pensioner by an 18-year-old asylum seeker.

Having first trialed the approach with Kosovo, Austria says it will expand the campaign to the North African states of Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria, whose asylum seekers are also unlikely to receive residence permits from immigration officials.

Afghanistan itself has displayed billboards and website ads to discourage its citizens from leaving a war-torn country, which continues a tortuous rebuild in the shadow of an ongoing Taliban onslaught.

It is a tactic that has also been deployed by immigration-resistant western states, with Denmark buying up ad space in Lebanese newspapers, while Canberra launched a “You will not make Australia home” campaign through YouTube videos in different languages as far back as 2014.

Investigative journalists attribute the sudden spikes in popularity of certain destinations due to the opening up of new smuggling routes, and the desire among their operators to boost income. Traveling from Kabul to Europe by land, through Iran, is estimated to cost about $3,000 per person, and by sea through Turkey, then Greece about $5,000, though a bespoke service can be worth as much as $20,000.