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IMMIGRATION

Slovakian village doesn’t want Austria’s migrants

Residents of the Slovakian village of Gabcikovo voted in a referendum on Sunday to reject the establishment of a temporary asylum camp to house 500 migrants bound for Austria under an agreement between Bratislava and Vienna.

Slovakian village doesn't want Austria’s migrants
Austria has had to set up tent cities for migrants. Photo: Vol.at

About 97 percent of voters said yes to the question “Are you against the establishment of a temporary migrant camp in the building of the Slovak Technical University?”

According to Teodor Bodo, the head of the referendum's electoral commission, 2,600 of Gabcikovo's 4,300 adult residents participated in the vote, with only 102 in favour of hosting migrants.

Local authorities organised the consultation following a petition signed by 3,150 residents of Gabcikovo. The interior ministry warned however that the outcome of the consultation was not binding.

“The local referendum is binding on the municipality, but the interior ministry, as an organ of the state is not obliged to act according to its results,” said ministry spokeswoman Michaela Paulenova.

Slovakia has agreed to house 500 migrants who have applied for asylum in Austria, at the end of a bilateral agreement concluded on July 21st in Vienna and designed to reduce pressure on the neighbouring country's capabilities for receiving migrants.

Under this agreement, hailed as “a great sign of solidarity on the part of Slovakia” by Austrian Interior Minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner, Slovakia will pay the cost of accommodation and food for migrants while Austria will assume the personnel costs.

Mikl-Leitner's Slovak counterpart Robert Kalinak justified Bratislava's gesture as a desire to “pay (its) debts” to Austria, which hosted refugees during the time of the Iron Curtain and supported Slovakia's accession to the EU and the Schengen area.

“Everything is ready now for Gabcikovo to accommodate migrants from Austria”, Paulenova said. The date of their arrival is however not yet known, she added.

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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