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IMMIGRATION

Hungary takes Austrian death truck case

Hungarian authorities have accepted an Austrian request to take over a probe into the deaths of 71 migrants found in a truck on an Austrian motorway in August.

Hungary takes Austrian death truck case
The abandoned truck in which the bodies were found. Photo: Andi Schiel

Vienna asked Budapest last month to handle the case, because the 59 men, eight women and four children were thought to have suffocated while the lorry was still in Hungary.

“The Hungarian authorities are taking over the investigation into the tragedy involving the death of 71 migrants on the A4 motorway,” Hungary's chief prosecutor Peter Polt told the state news agency MTI on Wednesday.

The badly decomposing bodies of the 71 people were discovered on August 27 inside an abandoned refrigerator truck in Burgenland state, close to the Hungarian border.

Investigations revealed that the migrants – mostly from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan – had been picked up at Hungary's border with Serbia and transported to Austria via Budapest.

An autopsy showed they had most likely died from lack of oxygen shortly after leaving the Hungarian capital.

The case sparked international revulsion and highlighted the plight of migrants and refugees putting their lives in the hands of people smugglers to reach northern Europe.

Five men, four Bulgarians and an Afghan, are under arrest in Hungary over the tragedy. A sixth person had also been detained in Bulgaria but was released on October 8.

EU member Hungary has taken a controversially hardline stance against migration, as the bloc struggles to cope with its worst refugee crisis since World War II.

In a bid to stem the record influx, Budapest brought in a tough anti-migrant law in September and sealed its southern borders with a razor-wire fence.

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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