Vienna refugee accommodation ready

One hundred refugees will be moving into temporary accommodation in Vienna’s 3rd district on Monday evening, from the overcrowded refugee reception centre in Traiskirchen.

Vienna refugee accommodation ready
One of the rooms in Erdbergstrasse. Photo: APA/HELMUT FOHRINGER

The majority are families from Syria. They will be able to stay for four months in the former police training barracks in Erdbergstrasse.

The second floor of the building houses a school, but the reaction from students and local residents has been mostly positive.  “I think it’s a good thing, everyone deserves to live in a safe environment,” one student told the Heute newspaper. “My parents were refugees themselves, so I have sympathy – but you have to integrate,” he added.

In the basement of the barracks there is a still a police training facility, complete with shooting range. The FPÖ has criticised the use of the building, saying it presents a security risk but the Interior Ministry has denied this.  

FPÖ leader Heinz-Christian Strache said on Sunday that he believes many refugees turn to criminality but was accused of scaremongering by Interior Minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner (ÖVP).

There will be room for up to 350 refugees in Erdberg and a further 250 in a former University of Economics sports facility in the 9th district.

It’s not clear how long it will take to get the rooms ready in the university building, as currently there are not enough showers, and a separate entranceway needs to be built to separate the accommodation from an adjacent nursery.

Some 150 refugees have been housed in police gyms in Eisenstadt, Salzburg, Linz and Villach. On Monday a gym will be opened for refugees in Graz.

The Interior Ministry has urged the provinces to do more to accommodate the growing number of refugees, many of whom are fleeing Islamic State militants in Syria.

Mikl-Leitner said that about 80 percent of Austrian municipalities have not found a single place for a refugee. Currently only Vienna and Lower Austria is meeting the agreed refugee quota.

Traiskirchen, in Lower Austria, has currently reached its limit with 1,600 refugees – and needs to make space for more arrivals who will be applying for asylum seeker status.

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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.