25 arrests after massive fight in asylum centre

Twenty-five young refugees have been arrested after a fight on Thursday evening in a camp for asylum seekers in Styria.

25 arrests after massive fight in asylum centre
The former Baumax store in Leoben. Photo: Kleine Zeitung/Birnbaum

A group of young male refugees – all aged under 18 – got into a fist fight and then began attacking each other with wooden boards and stones. Three were injured, with broken noses, and had to be treated in hospital.

Thirteen police patrols were called to the camp to bring the situation under control.

Inspector Franz Moisi said that the young refugees were mainly from different Afghan ethnic groups.

The fight occurred at around 10.45pm at a former hardware store on the outskirts of Leoben, which has been turned into a temporary shelter for asylum seekers. Around 300 unaccompanied minors are currently housed there, along with a further 123 people who are mostly families.

The police said they separated the rival groups and took families with young children to a safe area.

25 youths aged between 16 and 17 are now in custody, where they are being questioned with the help of a translator.

Inspector Moisi said this was the first major incident at the shelter. The conversion of the former hardware store into a refugee camp was not popular with locals.

Leoben’s Mayor Kurt Wallner (SPÖ) wrote an open letter to Interior Minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner on Friday, saying that he had been against “such inhuman mass accommodation shelters” since day one. He said it was a “powder keg” which must be defused, and that he needed reinforcements for the local police force.

He added that he could not solve the problem alone, and that legally the mayor is not responsible for maintaining security in the city.  “This can’t continue. The number of refugees in the centre must be lowered dramatically,” he wrote.

He said that many locals had told him they no longer felt safe in the city. More than 100 refugees have been housed in private homes in Leoben, something which he said had been a success.  

The local branch of the right-wing Freedom Party sent out a press release calling the incident “an orgy of violence among so-called refugees” which proves “once again that refugee centres pose a massive security risk. This backs up our argument that the centre should be closed as soon as possible.”

A spokesman from the interior ministry said that it was unlikely that the number of staff working at the asylum centre could be increased, and that social workers would be asked to look into the incident.


‘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.