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REFUGEE CRISIS

IMMIGRATION

Greece to ready refugee centres by November

After touring migrant facilities on the island of Lesbos with Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann, the Greek premier Alexis Tsipras said Athens would upgrade its refugee facilities by November to tackle the growing influx from Syria.

Greece to ready refugee centres by November
Syrian refugees arrive on Lesbos after traveling in an inflatable raft from Turkey. Photo: UNHCR

“We will try to organise better the facilities until the end of November… in order to start the process of relocation,” Tsipras told reporters.

“We have to organise the hotspots (for) the procedures of registration and identification of refugees,” he said.

Under an agreement with the European Union, Greece will expand its so-called “hotspot” registration centres on the Aegean islands where over 400,000 people have arrived since the beginning of the year, most fleeing the civil war in Syria.

Tsipras also said Athens should step up cooperation with neighbouring Turkey to protect refugees, hundreds of whom have died trying to cross the Aegean.

“We have to cooperate with the Turkish authorities… to organise better conditions (so) the refugees (will) not take the risk to lose their lives in the Aegean sea,” he said.

Also on Tuesday, the EU border agency said a further 600 officers would be sent to Greece to assist with border control and registration duties. A hundred of them would be from Austria, Faymann told Tsipras.

The Austrian chancellor said the EU should consider building camps near Syria to keep refugees closer to home. He said it should be a “priority to finance camps in the region of Syria, so that people have the possibility to have their human rights within the region”.

Many of them would be happy to stay in the region if they were able to live in peace, he said.

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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