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REFUGEE CRISIS

IMMIGRATION

4,000 refugees spend night in Spielfeld

Four thousand refugees spent the night in Spielfeld in Styria, after crossing the Slovenian border into Austria. All the women and children were accommodated in heated tents, but 300 men had to sleep out in the open.

4,000 refugees spend night in Spielfeld
Refugees in Spielfeld, Styria. Photo: APA

Styrian police said the refugees were supplied with woollen and thermal blankets and warm drinks.

More than 6,000 refugees arrived in Styria on Wednesday and in the evening around 2,000 people were taken to emergency shelters in Graz and other Austrian states by bus.

Police said that the situation on the border was “under control” and that barriers had been opened to let large groups of people through and avoid injuries.

Some 900 refugees arrived in Bad Radkersburg on Wednesday evening and were taken to emergency accommodation.

Several thousand more refugees and migrants are expected to cross the border into Austria on Thursday.

The Red Cross has asked people not to bring donations to the border crossing at Spielfeld. Donations of food – such as bread, bananas and still mineral water – should be taken to the former Euroshopping centre in Graz-Webling. Donations of clothes should be taken to Caritas centres.

The Red Cross has warned that with temperatures dropping the situation is becoming “critical”. “We are doing everything humanly possible to make sure that people receive help at the border, and of course we are especially concerned for the children,” spokesman Christopf Patzalt said.

Police in Germany have complained that Austrian authorities often bring large groups to the border in the late afternoon or evening.

“It's no problem up until midday. But in the late afternoon, it's blow after blow. Our Austrian colleagues are just as overloaded as we are,” Freyung district police spokesman Thomas Schweikl said.

 

On Wednesday, Austria’s interior minister announced plans to build a fence at the border crossing with Slovenia to “control” the refugee influx, but this prompted sharp criticism from Berlin, underlining how the crisis is straining relations within the EU.

EU officials said they were not told in advance of Austria's plan and in a sign of the sensitivity of the development, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker held hastily arranged talks with Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann.

Afterwards the two men issued a statement apparently seeking to stress common ground. “The president and the chancellor repeated their common position that fences have no place in Europe,” the statement 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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