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IMMIGRATION

Austria takes tougher stance on migrants

Austria's interior minister signalled a tougher line on migrants on Friday, saying that from next weekend it will follow Germany's lead and turn back any new arrivals seeking to claim asylum in Scandinavia.

Austria takes tougher stance on migrants
Hundreds of thousands of migrants crossed the Slovenian border last year. File photo: APA

“Right now on the Austrian-German border only those seeking asylum in Germany are being allowed in. Those who want to go further are being turned back,” Johanna Mikl-Leitner said on public radio Oe1.

“We will stop those people directly at our southern border (with Slovenia) from the end of next week,” Mikl-Leitner said.

She also said she wants to set a limit on the number of people to be settled in Austria and introduce other steps which would make it less attractive for those seeking asylum.

Caritas President Michael Landau said he believes that turning refugees away at the border would violate people's human rights

Last year Austria became a major transit country for hundreds of thousands of migrants and refugees entering the European Union, with most travelling onwards to reach Germany or Sweden.

But last week Sweden tightened border controls, prompting Denmark to follow suit and Berlin to send back to Austria anyone not seeking asylum in Germany at a rate of 200 to 300 per day, according to Mikl-Leitner.

Austria has already refused entry to 2,568 people entering from Slovenia since late December, according to the Slovenian authorities, because of problems with their identity papers.

German weekly Spiegel reported on its online version this week that Vienna was in talks with Croatia and Slovenia about sending Austrian police to help turn back migrants at their borders.

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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