Razor wire fence appears on Slovenian border

Austria has begun to construct "technical barriers" along its border with Slovenia, despite the Chancellor's stated opposition to constructing a fence.

Razor wire fence appears on Slovenian border
File Photo: Punch Steel Sarand

In a major policy reversal for the Austrian government, the Interior Ministry and police have begun to put in place temporary measures consisting of rolls of razor wire at major refugee border crossings, according to a report in the Kleine Zeitung newspaper.

As police try to control the massive influx of people seeking to cross into Austria, they were overwhelmed with the numbers. A police spokesman said that “the embankment was secured with help from rolls of barbed wire.”

Previously, Austrian chancellor Werner Faymann had criticised neighbouring Hungary's fences, saying that Austria's own “technical measures” would be different.

“This is not about a border barrier of several kilometres,” he said last month. “We are not fencing Austria in.”

Garden fence – with a gate

Interior minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner defended the measures, saying in an interview on Germany's ARD TV that “a fence is not a bad thing.  Anyone who has a house, has a garden and a fence.”  

She explained that a “garden fence” was necessary to decide who was allowed to come in, and who would be kept out.

German politician Hans-Peter Friedrich supported Mikl-Leitner's analogy, saying “I don't know why there is this demonization of fences.  Many people have fences around their gardens.”

“The crucial thing is that there is also a garden gate, where you can allow people to come in.”

Austria's policies came in for criticism from Germany's SPD parliamentary leader Thomas Oppermann, who said: “At the moment there is lawlessness because Austria does not adhere to the Dublin procedure.  Austria is refusing to send refugees back to Slovenia, and instead is passing them on to Germany.”

Women and children first

Meanwhile, on Monday afternoon a soldier from the Austrian 23rd Battalion of Vorarlberg was attacked with a fence post by a refugee while patrolling the border with Slovenia.  He suffered cuts to his face and hand, and was treated at a nearby hospital, according to a report in the Kronen Zeitung newspaper.

The mayor of Graz, Siegfried Nagl of the centre-right People's Party, suggested that refugees should be welcome, but only if they are with women or children.  

“For [families of women and children] we have a place, but the [single] men who want to come for help, we must make it clear to them that here, there is no capacity.”

When asked if this policy might be illegal under international law, he went on to tell a press conference “on a ship that is in distress, it’s women and children first to be saved, not the men”.


‘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.