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IMMIGRATION

Refugees: ‘Austria isn’t what we expected’

An increasing number of asylum seekers from Afghanistan, Iraq and Kosovo are returning to their countries, saying that they had expected better care and a shorter asylum process in Austria.

Refugees: 'Austria isn't what we expected'
Refugees at Vienna's Westbahnhof station. File photo: Caritas

Figures from the Interior Ministry show that between January and November this year over 1,100 Kosovans left Austria voluntarily. Kosovo is considered to be a safe country of origin and migrants have little chance of obtaining asylum in Austria.

Migrants from Iraq and Afghanistan have a good chance of being registered as asylum seekers but so far 530 people from Iraq have returned home, and 120 from Afghanistan. “This trend has become more noticeable since mid-September,” Interior Ministry spokesman Karl-Heinz Grundböck said.

The Caritas charity confirmed that between September 1st and December 14th 257 Iraqis, 35 Afghans and 53 Iranians flew home – most of whom had been resident in Vienna. In 2014 only two Iraqis, nine Afghans and one Iranian chose to return to their own countries.

“Many are afraid of being deported and the humiliation of that,” Caritas spokesman Martin Gantner said. He added that others are returning because they miss their families, and some had different expectations of what Austria and Europe would be like. “There are so many uncertainties for them here in Austria, many refugees are traumatized and need a sense of security,” he said.

Three Iraqi men in their 20s who spoke to the Kurier newspaper say they plan to fly home on Wednesday after three months in Austria. They are all computer engineers and had hoped to build a better life here. “We wanted peace, freedom and a future,” 23-year-old Muqdad said. He and his friends have been living in emergency refugee accommodation in Vienna’s 3rd district.

“We’ve just been humiliated here,” said Omer. “It was a mistake to come. People look at us here as if we were terrorists, and all we want is peace. Dogs are treated better than refugees in Austria – at least they have something good to eat, and are even given something to wear.”

The Afghan and Iraqi embassies in Vienna have also confirmed that increasing numbers of their citizens are choosing to return to their countries and said that they are issuing travel documents to dozens of people every day. The flights are mainly financed by the Interior Ministry and the EU.

Günter Ecker, the head of Vienna’s human rights association (VMÖ), expects the trend to continue. “Many Iraqis say that they expected better social care here, and many also had a misleading idea of how long the asylum process might take. They didn’t realise that they might have to wait a year or more until their families could join them here.”

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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