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IMMIGRATION

Majority of Austrians ‘support border fence’

More than half of Austrians are in favour of a border fence to control the entry of refugees into the country, the results of a new survey show.

Majority of Austrians 'support border fence'
Refugees in Spielfeld, Styria. File photo: APA

85 percent of respondents to a survey carried out by Linz-based polling institute IMAS said that they were in favour of border controls in Austria and wanted all EU countries to agree on refugee quotas.

IMAS questioned almost 1,000 Austrians over the age of 16 about Austria’s current refugee policy. 69 percent said they were not satisfied with the approach and wanted to see more decisions being made at EU level. 56 percent said that the EU should be working to resolve the conflicts in the war zones that refugees are fleeing from – through military force, if necessary.

Two thirds of those questioned said they were in favour of a hiring freeze for asylum seekers. 62 percent said they thought it was best that refugees be accommodated in large asylum quarters and only four percent said that they would agree to take a refugee into their home for three months.

70 percent of respondents thought that refugees should only be granted ‘temporary’ asylum, with the option to send them back to their own country once the war was over.

In a statement IMAS said the results confirm “that overall people have a feeling of helplessness and of being overwhelmed by the refugee situation”. It added that people were afraid of radical Islam, of an increase in violence and crime, and the effect on the labour market.

Economic boost

However, latest figures from the Austrian National Bank show that the number of refugees who have travelled to and through Austria has had a positive effect on the country and actually resulted in economic growth of 0.2 percentage points.

By the end of 2017 that figure is expected to increase to 0.7 percentage points. In contrast, the government's tax reform is only expected to bring economic growth of 0.5 percentage point in the next two years. 

Austria expects a record 95,000 asylum claims this year, making it one of the highest per capita recipients in Europe.

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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