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Austria Becomes Latest Country In Europe To Ban Full-Face Veil

Women in Austria protest in February against a ban on full-face veils. The measure was approved by the government on Tuesday.
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Women in Austria protest in February against a ban on full-face veils. The measure was approved by the government on Tuesday.

Austria became the latest European country to ban the full-face veil on Tuesday, with the legislation supported by both of the country's ruling parties.

"Starting in October, police will be charging fines from people who wear clothes that obstruct their facial features," Deutsche Welle reports. "The 150-euro ($166) fine would also apply to women wearing burqas and niqabs at universities, courts, or in public transport."

France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Bulgaria have already banned or partially banned wearing a burqa or niqab. Germany and Norway are also working on bans.

"The ban on the full-face veil is seen above all as a symbolic measure designed to avert pressure from the anti-immigration Freedom party," reports the Guardian. "Only between 100 and 150 women are estimated to wear the full-face veil in Austria."

The ban is part of a larger "integration law" that was assembled by Austria's two major parties, the Social Democratic party and the center-right Austrian People's Party. The policies are seen as an effort to avoid a collapse of the coalition government, which would trigger snap elections.

The government is under pressure from the far-right Freedom Party, which said that the law did not go far enough.

The new package of laws is intended to create "better framework conditions for this long and difficult road to integration," said Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz in a March press release.

It creates a number of rules and regulations for people who want to settle in Austria, including a 12-month "integration school" with lessons in German language and Austrian values. Asylum seekers will also be expected to do unpaid public work to prepare them for the job market, Deutche Welle reports.

"This is meant to ensure long-term integration into the labour market," said the foreign ministry's press release.

Migrants who refuse to take part in the courses would see their social welfare benefits cut, reports Deutsche Welle.

In February, thousands of people marched in Vienna in a rally organized by Muslim groups, protesting the proposed legislation. In a press release that month, Kurz referred to full-body veils and Salafist literature distribution as "symbols of a counter-society."

Germany's lower house, the Bundestag, approved a similar draft law last month that would prohibit wearing the full-face veil at work for civil servants, judges and soldiers.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel called for a ban on full-face veils "wherever legally possible." She faces an election in September, and her party has been losing some support to the anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany party, reports Deutsche Welle.

In March, the EU's highest court ruled that a Muslim woman who was fired in Belgium over wanting to wear an Islamic headscarf at her job did not suffer from direct discrimination, because her employer had a general rule against religious or political displays.

The veil bans join a long history of regulating and legislating women's clothing. France became the first European country to ban the full-face veil in 2011. Last summer the country introduced a ban on the "burkini"; the ban was enforced by mayors on the French Riviera until it was overturned by France's top administrative court.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Laurel Wamsley is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She reports breaking news for NPR's digital coverage, newscasts, and news magazines, as well as occasional features. She was also the lead reporter for NPR's coverage of the 2019 Women's World Cup in France.
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