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IMMIGRATION

Austria begins work on Slovenia border fence

Austria has begun installing a 3.7 km long fence at a border crossing with Slovenia, in what the interior ministry has said is a necessary measure to help control the flow of refugees and migrants.

Austria begins work on Slovenia border fence
Photo: ORF

A Tyrolean construction company has been driving the first metal posts into the ground and delivering the special wire mesh which will be used to build the fence. 38 soldiers from Villach are helping to assemble the fence, which is expected to be finished before Christmas.

The fence is being built in several stages as negotiations with some landowners in the area are still ongoing, a police spokesman said. Several vineyard owners have expressed concern that the fence could disrupt their vines and could also affect tourism in the region.

The fence will be 2.5 metres high and does not require any reinforcement with concrete. When it is no longer deemed necessary, the posts can be relatively easily removed and the wire mesh rolled up and taken away, without leaving any remnants which might disturb the natural surroundings.

On Monday morning around 1,200 refugees were waiting in Sentilj, Slovenia, to cross the border into Austria.

Austria and Slovenia, which share a 330-kilometre border, have found themselves major destinations for hundreds of thousands of people bound for northern Europe this year.

Most travel onwards to Germany and Scandinavia but Austria still expects a record 95,000 asylum claims this year, making it one of the highest per capita recipients.

Austria's move is the latest in a series of tough measures taken by countries to tackle the continent's worst refugee crisis since World War II, a trend which has accelerated since the Paris attacks on November 13th.

The flow of refugees and migrants has slowed significantly in recent weeks due to poor weather making crossing the Mediterranean more difficult and a Turkish crackdown on people smugglers, according to the UN refugee agency.

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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