Austria jails ‘atrocious’ people smuggler

A people smuggler who crammed 42 refugees into just six square metres in the back of a lorry was sentenced to three years in jail in Austria on Tuesday.

Austria jails 'atrocious' people smuggler
42 people were hidden in the back of this van. Photo: LPD NÖ

“It's not difficult to imagine what it was like with 42 people squashed into six square meters,” presiding judge Xenia Krapfenbauer said, calling it an “atrocious case”.

The Romanian defendant, 37, said that he did not know how many people were inside and that he had been paid €1,500 ($1,705) to drive the lorry.

By the time Austrian police stopped the vehicle in July near Vienna, the migrants had been locked up for seven hours non-stop, with temperatures outside more than 30C (86 Fahrenheit).

The migrants from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan did “thank God” however have air, Krapfenbauer said at the trial in Korneuburg in eastern Austria.

Seventy-one migrants in another lorry found abandoned in Austria in August were not so lucky, suffocating in a case that German Chancellor Angela Merkel called a “warning” to Europe.

Austria is a major transit point for refugees entering from Hungary, on their way to Germany and elsewhere. Since the August tragedy, Austrian police have stepped up checks for people smugglers.


‘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.