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REFUGEE CRISIS

IMMIGRATION

‘No beds’ for refugees as deadline looms

A deadline set by the interior ministry over quotas for asylum seekers in Austria’s nine states runs out on Friday, with state officials meeting in St Pölten to discuss the crisis.

'No beds' for refugees as deadline looms
A tent camp set up for asylum seekers. Photo: Vol.at

Interior Minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner says that if accommodation is not found for asylum seekers, they must be housed in army barracks.

 

Only Vienna, Lower Austria and Styria have met, and exceeded, their quotas so far.

 

The Traiskirchen refugee processing centre in Lower Austria is overflowing and the situation is getting worse.

 

3,000 asylum seekers are currently there and 700 don’t have beds and have to sleep on the floor, in garages and waiting rooms, or outside, Caritas Secretary General Klaus Schwertner said.  

 

The interior ministry has said that 300 people from Traiskirchen will be sent to other states.

 

The mayor of Wiener Neustadt, Klaus Schneeberger (ÖVP), has offered to host 400 refugees from Traiskirchen in the Arena Nova venue. Beds have already been set up but the move has been heavily criticised by the right-wing Freedom Party. Mikl-Leitner praised Schneeberger for his “compassion and courage”.

 

Carinthia’s government has refused to house asylum seekers in army barracks – saying that the Bleiburg barracks in question are too close to swimming pools, playing fields and schools as well as being close to the border with Slovenia – which could make them “a magnet for people traffickers”.

 

The governor of Upper Austria, Josef Pühringer, has called for tent camps that have been set up for asylum seekers in his state to be dismantled by the end of next month.

 

Klaus Schwertner has demanded the government make more money available for the cost of caring for asylum seekers – saying that €19 per day per person was too little.

 

Austria is expecting as many as 70,000 asylum requests this year, mainly from Syria and Afghanistan.

 

This week Austria stopped processing asylum requests in an effort to pressure other European Union member states to do more to help absorb waves of refugees pouring into the continent.

 

Mikl-Leitner has also made deporting asylum seekers under the Dublin Regulation a priority – which makes the asylum claim the responsibility of the member state which played the greatest part in the applicant’s entry or residence in the EU.

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IMMIGRATION

‘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.

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