Strong turnout for migrant rally in Vienna

Thousands of people flocked to Vienna’s Minoritenplatz on Monday evening to take part in a silent rally for the estimated 800 migrants who drowned in the Mediterranean on Sunday after the boat they were in capsized off Libya.

Strong turnout for migrant rally in Vienna
'The boat is empty!' Photo: Rosie Waites

President Heinz Fischer was present and called for a rethinking of Europe’s migration policy. "The current policy in this area cannot continue as it is," he said. He described the disaster as a "monstrous catastrophe".

In the wake of the disaster EU countries have approved boosting maritime and border patrols in the Mediterranean, targeting people smugglers and working with migrants' home countries and the nations they travel through to try to dissuade people from making the perilous journey across the sea.

People who attended the vigil at Minoritenplatz lit candles in honour of the dead and carried placards with slogans such as "Stop the mass deaths in the Mediterranean".

Chancellor Werner Faymann attended, as well as ministers from the SPÖ, Greens and Neos.

Michael Landau, president of the Catholic charity Caritas, described the refugee crisis as a "disgrace for Europe".

"We are faced with the question of whether we want to live in a Europe that has a cemetery at its gates, and whether, if we swim in the Mediterranean, we are prepared to swim over the dead," he said.

He called for more funding for programs such as Mare Nostrum, which operated search and rescue teams off Lampedusa, but was terminated in October 2014. 

The vigil was organised by Caritas, the Austrian Red Cross, SOS Mitmensch, Amnesty International and Diakonie, among others.

EU president Donald Tusk is to host an emergency summit on the migration crisis on Thursday.


President Fischer spoke to the crowd. 


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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.