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REFUGEE CRISIS

IMMIGRATION

Refugees to march in thanks in Vienna

A group of refugees is planning a ‘peace march’ on Vienna’s Mariahilferstrasse on September 28th, as a way of showing appreciation for the welcome they have received in Austria.

Refugees to march in thanks in Vienna
Refugees arriving at Westbahnhof station. File photo: Caritas

The march is organised by a group on Facebook called #Danke Österreich which was set up by former Syrian refugees who have been granted asylum in Austria.

In German, Arabic, English and Kurdish, the group invites asylum seekers and people who have been granted refugee status to join them on Monday. “This gesture of love and humanitarian sympathy that you have shown us as migrants can only be met by us with love and gratitude to your country,” the text says.

The group also asks the message to be spread to refugees who have recently arrived in Austria and are living in emergency shelters. More than 1,000 people have already pledged to attend.

The group will meet at Christian-Broda-Platz, near Westbahnhof at 6pm and march down Mariahilferstrasse towards the Museumsquartier.

“We want to say with one voice, thank you,” one of the organisers, Youssef Alyamani, said. The 33-year-old fled Syria in 2008 and has been granted asylum seeker status in Austria. He now runs a construction company in Vienna.

“This will be an opportunity to show that we are peaceful and to bring refugees and Austrians closer together,” he added. Organisers have been clear that it is not a demonstration – which could have played into the hands of the right-wing Freedom Party (FPÖ), which attempts to portray refugees as a danger to society.

The organisers say they will be waving the Austrian flag during the march and singing the national anthem, as well as carrying peace flags. “We’re just people who want to live in peace, and not material for political campaigns,” Alyamani said.

However, both the FPÖ and the social democrats (SPÖ) will be using the refugee crisis to gain supporters ahead of the Vienna elections on October 11th.

“(FPÖ leader) Strache will be using this to stir up resentment and reinforce any negative feelings… (Vienna’s SPÖ mayor) Häupl will be trying to appeal to supporters of the Greens, the Neos and even the ÖVP… as well as Christians and Catholics,” political expert Thomas Hofer told the Kurier newspaper.

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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