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REFUGEE CRISIS

IMMIGRATION

Austria mulls closure of Salzburg station

The main train station in the Austrian city of Salzburg may have to close due to the large numbers of refugees arriving and seeking to travel on to Germany, authorities said late on Tuesday, calling the situation "tense".

Austria mulls closure of Salzburg station
Photo: Herbert Ortner, Wikimedia

The warning came two days after Berlin reintroduced border controls, slowing down the passage of thousands of migrants from Austria into Germany and causing major road and rail disruption.

On Wednesday, no trains were running from Salzburg to Germany.

“The biggest problems are being created at present by the large number of people being brought privately (to Salzburg station) in cars and buses,” the state of Salzburg comprising the city and the surrounding area in a statement.

“If this continues in this way, a closure of the main train station may become necessary as a last resort,” it said, citing safety concerns caused by the large numbers of people inside the station.

The Austria Press Agency reported that hundreds of migrants were brought to the station in western Austria on Tuesday afternoon in buses, cars and taxis, mostly from the east of the country bordering Hungary.

Train services to Germany were delayed on Tuesday but were however running, including one that left Salzburg bound for Munich with around 700 migrants on board on Tuesday evening, APA reported.

Around 300 migrants were being sheltered in a nearby underground car park.  Further expected arrivals meant that around 1,000 were expected to spend the night, APA said.

Tens of thousands of migrants have entered Austria from Hungary in recent weeks, all but a handful travelling onwards to Germany via train, and mostly to Munich via Salzburg.

But Germany's move to tighten its borders– Austria will also tighten checks from midnight at the Hungarian border — has created something of a bottleneck with around 20,000 refugees stuck in Austria on Monday.

APA reported that between 2,500 and 3,000 were still leaving Austria for Germany on daily basis, but Deputy Chancellor Reinhold Mitterlehner said late Tuesday that there was still a “backlog”.

The migrants “will be able to continue onwards,” Mitterlehner said. “Just not in the same concentrations as we saw before”.

Trains were also taking migrants direct from Vienna to Passau in southern Germany and beyond to the north, missing out Salzburg and Munich.

Hungary meanwhile has effectively sealed its border with Serbia, but it was not immediately clear what effect this would have on numbers entering Austria, or when.

Overnight Monday and throughout Tuesday, around 5,800 people crossed the main crossing point from Hungary into Austria at Nickelsdorf, police said.

Around 5,000 were expected to spend the night at Vienna's Westbahnhof station and in nearby accommodation.

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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