Train of Hope moves on from Hauptbahnhof

Train of Hope, a volunteer group that formed to help refugees arriving in Austria from Syria and other countries, is dismantling its centre at Vienna’s Hauptbahnhof railway station as refugees are no longer arriving there in such huge numbers.

Train of Hope moves on from Hauptbahnhof
The group's donation centre at the back of Hauptbahnhof. Photo: Train of Hope

Since early September around 200 volunteers have staffed a 24 operation to help refugees arriving at the main station. As temperatures get colder and with many countries tightening border controls, fewer refugees are arriving in Vienna.

“We want to help where we are most needed, and this is no longer the case at the main railway station,” Train of Hope spokeswoman Martina Barwitzki said. The focus has now shifted to helping refugees who are currently housed in transit quarters and emergency accommodation.

Train of Hope volunteers are now busy making an inventory of all the donations they have in stock, and will store them for future need. Currently, they are not accepting any further donations. Anyone who has loaned items to the group can pick them up from the Hauptbahnhof.

The group said it plans to hold a series of workshops to decide on how it can help “welcome” refugees in Vienna, with ideas such as a housing project, a jobs board and finding people willing to hold German classes up for discussion. It is still looking for office space in Vienna.

On Friday, Train of Hope will be awarded a Human Rights Award from the Austrian League for Human Rights.

Austria expects a record 95,000 asylum claims this year. 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.


‘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.