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Coalition parties fight over asylum benefits

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Syrian refugees arriving in Austria. File photo: ORF
11:10 CET+01:00
Austria's conservative People's Party (ÖVP) is calling for nationwide reductions in welfare benefits to immigrants, but the Social Democrats (SPÖ) have said any cuts would be “unconstitutional”.

ÖVP club chairman Reinhold Lopatka said that the “refugee crisis has exacerbated the situation" and put a strain on the social security system, adding that “it's clear that we need to take action”.

He said that Austria should follow Denmark's model for social security payments - where immigrants who have resided in Denmark for less than seven of the past eight years get significantly lower benefits than those who have lived there for longer.

Lopatka also wants social security payments to be cut by 25 percent for immigrants who show themselves unwilling to integrate and find a job after one year in Austria, but there would be financial incentives for those who showed themselves willing to work.

The cuts are a way to make Austria a less attractive destination for refugees. “It's clear that our welfare system is a large ‘pull factor' for refugees,” Lopatka said. The minimum social security payment for an unemployed single person in Austria is €827 - Bulgaria, in comparison, only pays out a minimum of €416.

Last year Denmark approved cuts to welfare benefits afforded to refugees and other immigrants, which cut the benefits offered to people who have resided in Denmark for less than seven of the past eight years by 45 percent. Foreigners also receive a financial incentive to learn Danish, and receive more money after passing the intermediate Danish language exam.

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Vienna's social democrat mayor Michael Häupl rejected the ÖVP's proposals - saying they are "unconstitutional" and accusing the ÖVP of wanting to “dismantle the welfare system”. He said that he would not agree to any welfare cuts in Vienna and that recognised asylum seekers have the same legal rights as Austrian citizens.

Upper Austria state is already planning to reduce its welfare benefits for asylum seekers - from €914 to just €320. Federal states have the power to independently cut welfare benefits when they find they can no longer afford to pay the full amount.

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