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IMMIGRATION

Possible charges for refugee convoy activists

Austrian activists who took part in a “refugee convoy” and drove cars into Hungary to pick up refugees and help them reach Austria and Germany could face criminal charges of people smuggling, according to a report in Der Standard newspaper.

Possible charges for refugee convoy activists
Volunteers drove to collect refugees who were stuck in Hungary. Photo: APA

Der Standard reports that at least three people who took part in the convoy on September 6th are the subject of an investigation by the Vienna public prosecutor’s office. Around 150 cars were driven to Budapest and Györ in Hungary, where they picked up refugees and drove them back to Austria for no charge.

The Linz public prosecutor is investigating another citizen initiative to help refugees – an online platform called ‘fluchthelfer.in’ which was launched in Germany and gives people tips on how to help refugees without facing prosecution. The site’s owners could face charges of encouraging people to commit crimes and disobey the law, and if convicted they would face a maximum of two years in prison. Authorities in Germany are also looking into the case.

Michael Platzer, an envoy of the Academic Council on the United Nations System (ACUNS), said at a meeting at the Institute of Criminology in Vienna that the state is forcing people to break the law as it has made legal passage for refugees impossible.

He argued that the law regarding people smuggling should be abolished, as it only serves “to drive smugglers’ prices up”. Recent proposals to tighten asylum laws in Austria – which would make it harder for family members to join recognised refugees – will drive more people into the arms of people smugglers, he added.

Vienna defence lawyer Joseph Phillip Bischof believes that the law is often used to disproportionately punish people. It states that someone is guilty of people smuggling if they have benefited from transporting someone, “but this could be something as small as an invitation to lunch” Bischof said.

However, Gerald Tatzgern, head of the government’s Anti-Smuggling Unit said that his department is only “concerned with the serious cases” and that the priority is to protect refugees.

Criminal law expert Andreas Schloenhardt told Der Standard that many people smugglers are in fact just doing what the government should be doing – giving refugees safe passage. He is in favour of targeted resettlement and the establishment of UN-supervised transit camps.

ECONOMY

Diversity and jobs: How migrants contribute to Vienna’s economy

International business owners in Vienna bring in billions of euros in revenue and taxes each year, according to a recent survey by the Chamber of Commerce.

Diversity and jobs: How migrants contribute to Vienna's economy

New figures show that Vienna’s international entrepreneurs do more than simply boost diversity in Austria’s capital city – they also significantly contribute to the local economy.

The Wirtschaftskammer (Chamber of Commerce) has revealed that business owners in Vienna with a migration background generate € 8.3 billion in revenue and create around 45,500 jobs.

Plus, these companies pay around € 3.7 billion every year in taxes and duties, reports ORF.

READ MORE: Austrian presidential elections: Why 1.4 million people can’t vote

Walter Ruck, President of the Vienna Chamber of Commerce, said: “Companies with a migrant background not only enrich the diversity of the corporate landscape in Vienna, they are also an economic factor.”

Ruck added that more than 200 international companies move to the capital each year and said the diversity is helping Vienna to financially recover from the pandemic. 

The Chamber of Commerce considers a business owner to have a migration background if they were not born in Austria and/or they have a non-Austrian nationality.

READ ALSO: What are the rules on working overtime in Austria?

According to ORF, there are 34,000 entrepreneurs in Vienna with a migration background and 7,400 of those business owners have Austrian citizenship.

Additionally, 4,500 business owners have Slovakian nationality, 3,800 are from Romania and 2,600 have German citizenship.

The most popular business sector for people in Vienna with a migration background is retail, followed by real estate and technical services.

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