Police defend large scale search for one refugee

Police in the village of Alberschwende in Vorarlberg launched a large scale operation on Monday to search for a Syrian refugee who is due to be deported to Hungary, but failed to find him.

Police defend large scale search for one refugee
Alberschwende. Photo:

Eight police patrols searched homes in the community of around 3,000, which has supported a small group of asylum seekers and tried to prevent their deportation.

Police spokesman Stefan Morscher said that if another arrest order comes from the Federal Office for Asylum then police will have to search locals’ homes again but said that he was keen that they were not punished for resisting the police.

For weeks the community has been supporting five Syrians who were given temporary asylum in Alberschwende but now face being deported.

150 people have signed up to be part of an emergency contact team who pledged to protect the asylum seekers if they were threatened with deportation. However, the police operation on Monday happened so quickly that the team could not be contacted in time.

The mayor of Alberschwende, Angelika Schwarzmann (ÖVP), told the ORF that refugees have at least three weeks notice before they can be deported, and that the community was not hiding the refugees.

She added that the men could not be expected to sit at home and wait for the police to come and get them as they had classes to attend and are employed on a community building site. For the last four months the community has done everything it can to integrate the men, she said.

Eight Syrian asylum seekers have been living in Alberschwende for the last four months, and five of them were told they would later be deported to Hungary within days of their arrival. Schwarzmann argues that Hungary is not a safe country for them to be sent to, as refugees there have been deprived of their rights and imprisoned.

After six months in Austria refugees have the right to apply for asylum. This period expires for the five men in question on June 22nd. Syrian refugees have a high likelihood of being granted asylum.

The Greens party has criticized the police operation in Alberschwende as disproportionate and has asked for the Ombudsman to review the current approach to asylum seekers.

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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.