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REFUGEE CRISIS

IMMIGRATION

Hungary taking migrants to Austrian border

Hungary has effectively stopped registering thousands of refugees crossing the border from Serbia and is transporting them straight to the Austrian frontier, the UN refugee agency said on Monday.

Hungary taking migrants to Austrian border
Refugees walking from Budapest. File photo: MTI

“Our information is that special trains are taking migrants from Röszke (train) station direct without stopping to the Austrian border,” Erno Simon, UNHCR Regional Representative for Central Europe, told AFP.

He said this was “approximately a four-hour journey, yesterday (Sunday) three such trains left carrying at least 2,000 people. During the night our colleagues saw police waking people up at the border collection point.”

There was no immediate comment from the Hungarian government about the development, which matches comments made by migrants to an AFP correspondent at the flashpoint town of Röszke near the Serbian border.

Hungary is supposed to give asylum seekers medium-term housing in refugee camps, of which Hungary has several, although they are reportedly full.

EU member Hungary has become a frontline state in Europe's refugee crisis, with more than 180,000 people travelling up from Greece through the western Balkans and entering the country this year.

On Sunday, police recorded a record 5,809 people entering Hungary, smashing the previous day's record of 4,330.

The sharp increase came ahead of harsh new Hungarian laws coming into force on Tuesday under which people entering the EU country illegally can be jailed for up to three years.

One unconfirmed report also suggests that Hungary plans to declare a state of emergency, as part of a plan designed to prevent asylum seekers from entering the country.

In addition to the new laws, Hungary is also building a controversial four-metre high (13-feet) fence all along its 175-kilometre (110-mile) border with Serbia.

The migrants, mostly Syrians, Afghans and Pakistanis, seek to travel onwards to Austria and then western Europe, particularly Germany — which has relaxed asylum rules for Syrians — and Sweden.

On Sunday, however, Germany reimposed border controls and trains from Austria were suspended — although they resumed on Monday morning — leaving thousands arriving from Hungary effectively stranded.

Austria's government responded on Monday with plans to deploy some 2,200 military personnel, primarily for humanitarian support but also to strengthen border checks.

By around midday there were more than 7,000 migrants at Nickelsdorf, the main crossing point into Austria, police said. Around 5,000 others spent the night in Vienna.

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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