Afghan refugees found in fridge truck

Six young refugees from Afghanistan, aged between 15 and 17, have been rescued after almost freezing to death in a refrigerator truck.

Afghan refugees found in fridge truck
Photo: APA

The young men had been hidden in the truck in Greece by a people smuggler, but managed to draw attention to their plight as they crossed the Austrian border from Italy into Carinthia.

The truck driver, from Hungary, had no idea about his hidden cargo. He was driving on the Kärntner Straße (B83) through Thörl-Maglern on Saturday when he heard a knocking sound from inside the trailer. He stopped in a parking lot and when he opened the trailer the six stowaways jumped out and fled.

Police found the men shortly afterwards. Two of them had been slightly injured as they escaped and were treated in the outpatient department of a local hospital. All six had hypothermia after having spent around 30 hours in the refrigerator truck.

They said that they had been hidden in the truck in the Greek port of Patras, and confirmed that the driver did not know they were there. On Saturday night Austrian officials handed them over to Italian police.

In a separate incident on Sunday police in Kufstein, Tyrol, arrested 38 refugees on a passenger train travelling from Italy to Germany. They were from Eritrea, Sudan, Mali and Nigeria. They are being cared for by the Red Cross in Plon and will be handed over to the Italian authorities.

Under the terms of the Dublin II Regulation – the core principle for handling asylum claims in the EU – responsibility for examining the claim lies primarily with the member state which played the greatest part in the applicant's entry or residence in the EU. This means that refugees who cross the border are returned to Italy for further processing.

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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.