Hundreds plan to protest against asylum policy

Hundreds of people are planning to protest against Austria’s asylum policy in Vienna later today.

Hundreds plan to protest against asylum policy
One of the tent cities. Photo:

The hopelessly overcrowded refugee processing centre in Traiskirchen, Lower Austria, has long been a byword for what critics say is a failed asylum policy.

The centre has been housing up to 2,000 refugees, many of them unaccompanied minors, even though the upper limit is meant to be 480 people. Last week the Interior Ministry set up tents in the grounds of a nearby former security academy for 480 refugees, to try and ease the strain.

The refugees say that they lack any privacy at Traiskirchen and have to wait months for their asylum applications to be processed. The tent city has been sweltering in temperatures of up to 32C this week.

Traiskirchen mayor Andreas Babler (SPÖ) has organised the protest, under the title “It’s enough, Mrs Minister”. He believes Interior Minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner (ÖVP) is responsible for the situation, and he has organised six buses for between 300 and 500 frustrated Traiskirchen residents to travel to Vienna on Tuesday afternoon.

They will be gathering at 6:45 pm in Löwelstrasse and from there will make their way to the Interior Ministry in Herrengasse. A police spokesman told the Österreich newspaper that “enough officers will be deployed” to ensure everything runs smoothly.

Around 1,000 refugees are currently living in tent camps in Austria, because only Vienna, Lower Austria and Styria have met their asylum quotas. Mikl-Leitner has given the rest of the country an ultimatum, and has said that if the quotas are not met by June 18 she will have to house refugees in disused army barracks. From July, seven new processing centres should be up and running.

Babler told Österriech that it was “inconceivable that people should have to sleep in tents, when there are hundreds of empty buildings which could be used”.

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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.