More housing sought for asylum seekers

Interior Minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner of the conservative Austrian People's Party (ÖVP) says that existing quarters for asylum seekers will be extended and private quarters will be rented to house the flood of refugees coming into Austria.

More housing sought for asylum seekers
Mikl-Leitner and Klug discussing asylum arrangements. Photo: APA (Schlager)

This step comes after Mikl-Leitner had previously announced that the main reception centre in Traiskirchen, a town near Baden in Lower Austria, would not be able to admit any more refugees.

This is due to the fact that Traiskirchen is completely overcrowded. It is only supposed to hold 480 refugees. In fact, more than three times as many refugees are accommodated there at the current time.

The interior ministry would also provide several rooms in its own buildings such as gyms. Furthermore there were talks with the Red Cross about helping out with the provision of several tents if necessary. "That would only be the last alternative for me," Mikl-Leitner emphasised.

"It's important for me that no war refugee is left out on the streets," Mikl-Leitner said. Once again she proposed housing asylum seekers in military barracks.

The military barracks in Linz-Ebelsberg in Upper Austria would be an "option where refugees could be provided with optimum support," she said. 

She expected an answer from Defence Minister Gerald Klug (Social Democrats/SPÖ) by Thursday, Mikl-Leitner added.

However, Klug has always rejected such proposals and that's why Mikl-Leitner has asked President Heinz Fischer, who is the supreme commander of the armed forces, for support.

The Governor of Upper Austria Josef Pühringer (ÖVP) told the news daily Kurier on Wednesday that the Ebelsberg option "can be done at any time".

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‘Discrimination’: Austria’s benefit cuts for immigrants ‘go against free movement’

Benefit cuts imposed by Austria on immigrants whose children live in their country of origin contradict EU law becasue they constitute "discrimination on the ground of nationality", a legal adviser at the bloc's top court said on Thursday.

A picture of the sign and logo of the Court of Justice of the European Union in Luxembourg
A picture of the sign and logo of the Court of Justice of the European Union in Luxembourg on January 13, 2020. (Photo by JOHN THYS / AFP)

The opinion is the latest legal hitch to befall a series of measures — imposed by a previous government that included the far-right — which sought to restrict benefit payments to foreigners.

Richard de la Tour, advocate general of the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU), said the cuts to child benefits constituted “an infringement of the right of free movement conferred on EU citizens”.

The specific case relates to reforms that came into effect in 2019 which indexed child benefits according to where the recipient’s children live.

This meant reduced payments for tens of thousands of eastern Europeans who work in Austria — notably in the care sector — but whose children remain in their countries of origin.

The advocate general’s advice is not binding on the court but it is seen as influential.

De la Tour found that the cuts were “indirect discrimination on the ground of nationality which is permissible only if it is objectively justified”, and that Austria had failed to do so.

They contravened the principle that “if a migrant worker pays social contributions and taxes in a member state, he or she must be able to benefit from the same allowances as nationals of that state”, he added.

In 2020 the European Commission, supported by six eastern member states, brought an action before the CJEU claiming Austria was “failing to fulfil its obligations”.

Former Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz had said he hoped the cuts would save 114 million euros ($130 million) a year but in 2019 they recouped 62 million euros.

The former coalition also introduced benefit cuts for immigrants who failed to reach a certain level of German, but those measures were subsequently overturned by the Austrian courts.

The government that introduced in the cuts was brought down in a corruption scandal in May 2019.

It included the centre-right Austrian People’s Party (OeVP), which is still the senior partner in the current government.

However their current coalition partners, the Greens, opposed the benefit cuts at the time.