Bavarian leader: I’ll send refugees back to Austria

Austria has warned against the Bavarian government's threat to start turning refugees back at the Austrian border - saying it could lead to violence.

Bavarian leader: I'll send refugees back to Austria
Refugees at Westbahnhof station. Photo: Caritas

“We need to take emergency measures to stem the flow of refugees, for example turning them back at the Austrian border or sending asylum seekers immediately on into other German states,” Bavaria's minister president Horst Seehofer told the Bild newspaper.

Seehofer did not go into details of how such a policy would work. The Austrian border is controlled by the Federal Police, which comes under the control of the federal government in Berlin, not the Bavarian government in Munich.

'Violent protests'

Austria reacted with immediate anger to Seehofer's comments. “If Bavaria starts to slow down the flow of refugees and to put more controls in place, then Austria will be forced to take similar measures,” Austrian Interior Minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner said.

She added that if refugees were sent back Austria would have a “humanitarian crisis” on its hands – and that there could be violent protests and riots if people who want to stay in Germany are forced to return to Austria.  

Bavaria for its part has expressed anger that Austria allows refugees to travel unopposed into the southern German state, meaning thousands arrive daily.

The German human rights organisation Pro Asyl has criticised Seehofer's threats to send refugees back to Austria – saying such a move would be illegal and refugees can only be sent back to whichever EU state is originally responsible for them.

The Bavarian leader's comments are also likely to bring him into further conflict with Chancellor Angela Merkel.

The two leaders of Germany's “Union” of conservative parties have repeatedly expressed opposing views on the refugee crisis in recent weeks.


‘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.