Tensions are growing in Austria over the deportation of three girls to Georgia and Armenia, including a 12-year-old girl who was born in the country.
The government is being criticised for expelling the children, who are considered to be "well-integrated" into Austrian society, especially amid the coronavirus crisis.
Tina, 12, who was born in Austria and has lived there for 10 years in total said: "When we started, I saw many people and policemen who pushed these people away, who pushed them on the ground."
After a seven-year process, her family's asylum applications were finally rejected in December 2019.
Even without a legal base for asylum, the authorities examined the procedure of whether deportation would be compatible with the human right to private and family life.
In the case of Tina and her family, the authorities decided that the state's interest in ensuring respect for its laws prevailed.
Early Thursday morning, ahead of the eminent deportations, there were massive protests from friends, classmates and human rights activists at the deportation center the girls were staying at on the outskirts of the Austrian capital, Vienna.
“Even if she is not Austrian on the paper, she is a perfectly integrated member of our society, with many friends, a good student, a family and her life here in Austria. That’s why it makes us sad that she is deported to a country she has no relation to,” said one boy at the protest.
“We are here to fight for Sona [the other girl] because it is not fair," said another girl at the protest.
"They took her from home in the middle of the night with the whole family, she is a great friend, integrated, well-adapted, she is a good student, preparing for her baccalaureate, preparing for a cooking exam, she writes a diploma thesis, that is not fair.”
The Greens, who are currently in the governing coalition with the conservative ÖVP party, sharply criticised the deportation.
“It cannot be that perfectly integrated young people, in this case, students, are taken out of the classrooms, and brought into a country of origin they don’t even know, they don’t even speak the language of," said Rudolf Anschober, Austrian Minister of Social Affairs.
"I think it would be a good thing if we looked for a human solution," he said.
Those in favour of the deportations, including the interior minister, Karl Nehammer, argued that several court decisions found that the family had no legal right to stay in Austria.
“I am concerned that the parents of these children brought them into this situation. That the parents deliberately abused the right of asylum. There were numerous negative asylum procedures against them,” he said.
The deportations have garnered national attention in Austria after schoolmates of Tina, launched an online petition that has gathered more than 34,000 signatures.
All Austrian courts rejected the family's claims to stay, according to multiple media reports, and the Federal Administrative Court ruled that part of the reason the family had been in Austria for so long had been because it ignored the authorities' instructions.
According to the interior ministry, Tina's family had been in the country illegally for four years.
However, advocates of the girls said that Austria was not legally obliged to deport people without stay permits.