Syrian jailed for two years for smuggling

A Syrian man found guilty of smuggling 178 fellow citizens through Austria was sentenced to two years in prison on Tuesday by the Vienna Criminal Court.

Syrian jailed for two years for smuggling
Landesgericht Wiener Neustadt

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The 33-year-old, who came to Austria as a war refugee in February 2014 and received asylum in October, was part of a group operating out of Poland to smuggle Syrians to northern Europe.

He provided accommodation for people who arrived in Vienna with no roof over their head, at the cost of 50 Euros per person, which his lawyer said was just to cover expenses.

Most of the refugees then continued their journey to Poland the next day, eventually travelling on to Germany and Sweden.

The Syrian organised 32 such journeys between June and December but says he only charged around 100 of his compatriots and did not take money from everyone.

“This is no criminal living in luxury. This is a man whose first priority is to help his people. The 50 Euros has just covered the expenses,” his legal defender Andreas Strobl said.

In total he lived off an income of 5,000 Euros. “At the beginning I had only 40 Euros support a month,” the defendant said, explaining that only when he received asylum status in October did his financial situation improve.

The smuggler was arrested in Hungary on 20th January, after an extensive investigation run by a special commission of provincial police in Burgenland.

After his arrest, he cooperated with police and named other people involved, as well as providing an insight into the smuggling operations.

“I will feel a shame to the end of my life,” the Syrian said after giving evidence in the proceedings. When he received the punishment of an unconditional sentence of two years, he reportedly struck his hands on his head in horror.

A Chechen man was also sentenced on Tuesday to 16 months in jail for smuggling offences. The man, who came to Austria in 2007, helped to smuggle people using the small transport company he ran.

“I did not know that it was dangerous,” he told the court. “They promised me money. I fell for it.”

In both cases, the judgement is not final.



‘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.