Austria deploys army to help with refugee crisis

Around 2,200 members of the Austrian military are to be deployed to help with the influx of thousands of refugees - including to carry out border checks - the government said on Monday.

Austria deploys army to help with refugee crisis
Refugees waiting at Nickelsdorf station. File photo: APA

“The police and the Austrian interior ministry need support, they need support from the Austrian army,” Chancellor Werner Faymann said in Vienna a day after Germany reintroduced border controls for migrants, leaving thousands of people effectively stranded in Austria.

“The main focus of the support will be in domestic humanitarian help, but it will also assist in a strengthening of border controls where necessary,” Faymann told reporters.

Faymann said that the decisions are “a clear signal (to the international community) that Austria and Germany cannot solve the world's asylum question alone.”

Border crossing closed

Meanwhile, the Austrian-Hungarian border crossing at Nickelsdorf on the A4 motorway has been temporarily closed, as Austrian police expect a large influx of refugees from Hungary and have said the situation could escalate to an emergency.

More than 16,000 people have crossed the border from Hungary since Saturday afternoon. Police spokesman Gerald Koller said that up to 10,000 refugees are expected to arrive in Heiligenkreuz in Burgenland on Monday, and that they do not have the resources to cope with such a large number.

Police have set up metal barriers to contain the refugees, who are arriving on buses every hour. Around 7,500 refugees are in Nickelsdorf, waiting to travel on to Vienna.

More than 5,000 refugees spent Sunday night in Vienna, police spokesman Patrick Maierhofer said. Around 1,100 refugees were reported to be at Westbahnhof station on Monday morning. During the last 24 hours 131 people have filed asylum applications in Vienna.

Röszke 'being closed'

There are unconfirmed reports that Hungary is about to close a refugee camp at Röszke, where up to 80,000 people are currently being held. The camp is 386 km from Austria and there are fears that the refugees will set off on foot for Austria.

People wishing to travel from Austria to Hungary on Monday are advised to use the border crossing on the A6 motorway, by way of Kittsee or Deutschkreutz.

Train services between Austria and Germany resumed on Monday morning, after being suspended for 12 hours on Sunday.

In recent weeks, tens of thousands of migrants have travelled up the western Balkans from Greece into Hungary and then Austria, all but a handful continuing to Germany — which has relaxed asylum rules for Syrians — and also Sweden.


‘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.