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IMMIGRATION

Minute of silence tops Austrian iTunes chart

A minute of silence released by an Austrian artist to protest against the "shocking" treatment of refugees topped the country's iTunes chart on Thursday even though the track was yet to be released.

Minute of silence tops Austrian iTunes chart
Artwork for 'Schweigeminute'. Image: Raoul Haspel

Raoul Haspel, a visual artist, said all proceeds from “Schweigeminute” (“Minute's silence”) will go to help Austria's massively overcrowded Traiskirchen refugee centre south of Vienna.

“It seems like I have found the right words for this situation, which is no words at all,” the 35-year-old told AFP, adding that he was aiming to highlight “the incredible failure of the Austrian government and of European policy.”

“My personal short-term goal is that tonight in Traiskirchen… people don't have to sleep in wet beds without shelter with their kids having not enough food, water, warm jackets or toilet paper,” he said.

“This is unworthy of our European idea and our self-understanding as human beings.”

Pre-orders put the track, costing 99 cents ($1.11) and set for release later this month, number one ahead of “Sugar” by Robin Schulz, the iTunes Austria website showed.

The track, comprising 60 seconds of total silence, was also available to download via Amazon and the Google Play Store.

Traiskirchen, Austria's main refugee processing centre, has been sharply criticised, with the UN refugee agency calling conditions there “intolerable, dangerous and inhumane”.

Built to house 1,800 people, the camp and an adjacent building are currently home to 4,000 men, women and children.

Of these, around 1,500 do not have a bed, with many children sleeping in tents outside the camp, in parks or the local train station.

Rights group Amnesty International, which visited Traiskirchen in early August, said sanitary conditions were “unacceptable”, with toilets blocked and communal mixed showers where women had no privacy.

The Austrian federal government has acknowledged the crisis at Traiskirchen, but accuses the individual Austrian states of dragging their feet in providing extra housing.

The European Union's migration commissioner said last week that the world is facing its worst refugee crisis since World War II as tens of thousands of people flee violence in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan towards Europe.

In Austria, the number of asylum requests rose above 28,300 between January and June alone – as many as for the whole of 2014 – and officials expect the total to reach 80,000 this year.

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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