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REFUGEE CRISIS

IMMIGRATION

ORF launches refugee aid initiative

The Austrian broadcaster ORF has started a campaign to help refugees in Austria, called Helfen wie Wir. It is designed to coordinate the activities of major charities and make it easier for people to donate, volunteer and provide housing where possible.

ORF launches refugee aid initiative
Refugee children at Westbahnhof. Photo: Barbara Süss

The campaign has been launched in collaboration with Caritas, Diakonie, Hilfswerk, Samariterbund, the Red Cross and Volkshilfe. Its website, http://www.helfenwiewir.at/, will be used as a central point for coordinating volunteers.

Austria expects to take in up to 80,000 asylum seekers this year, mostly from Syria and Afghanistan. Finding adequate housing for refugees is becoming a matter of urgency as winter approaches.

“We are facing a historically exceptional situation that challenges all of Europe. We need to join forces to meet those challenges,” ORF General Director Alexander Wrabetz said.

People who wish to volunteer or need more information can call a free hotline on 0800 66 55 77 (Monday to Friday from 8 am to 9 pm, Saturday and Sunday from 11.30 am to 8 pm).

Any cash donations made through the site will be given to the charities who are assisting refugees. Companies are being asked to donate things which will help families who have lost everything restart their lives.

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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