Emergency migrant measures ‘phased out’

Up to 20,000 refugees crossed the border from Hungary into Austria over the weekend after an agreement with Austria and Hungary to relax asylum rules. However, Austria's Chancellor Werner Faymann has said the emergency measures will now be phased out.

Emergency migrant measures 'phased out'
Refugee children with donated soap bubbles at Vienna's Westbahnhof. Photo: Caritas

He said they would move step by step “towards normality”, after speaking to German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban on Sunday.

Faymann added that “a measure of this type cannot be a solution” and that Austria would slowly reintroduce random border checks.

Hungary had previously blocked refugees from travelling to Western Europe, but on Friday announced it would be shuttling people to the Austrian border.

On Sunday, a group of cars driven by German and Austrian activists travelled to the Hungarian border to pick up refugees and distribute food and blankets.

The refugees had travelled north through the Balkans before arriving at Hungary's southern border, and on to Austria and Germany. The majority are fleeing the civil war in Syria.

Just over 100 people claimed asylum in Austria over the weekend, with more than 18,000 travelling on to Germany to claim asylum there. The refugees are afraid that if they claim asylum in Austria they could be sent back to Hungary under the Dublin III rule – whereas Germany has said it will accept asylum applications from Syrian refugees, regardless of which EU country they first arrived in.

The new arrivals in Austria have been met at the main railway stations – Westbahnhof and Hauptbahnhof – by a huge army of charity workers and volunteers who are handing out food, water, hygiene supplies and providing medical treatment.

Germany is expecting a record 800,000 new asylum seekers this year, four times the number in 2014.

The UN's refugee chief has said the crisis could be “manageable” if European countries all pulled their weight and agreed on a common approach.

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker is expected to present a plan on Wednesday to relocate 120,000 refugees from overstretched Italy, Greece and Hungary.

Germany's Welt am Sonntag newspaper said the plan would see Germany accepting 31,000, followed by France with 24,000 and Spain with almost 15,000. Austria has said it will take an extra 3,640 refugees.

EU interior ministers are meeting on September 14th, and Austria is among those pushing for a summit to resolve the migrant crisis to be held swiftly afterwards.



Follow the tweets from volunteers at Austria's main train stations here:



‘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.