SHARE
COPY LINK

IMMIGRATION

Austria to more than halve refugee numbers in 2016

Austria has said it will seek to cap the number of asylum seekers at 37,500 in 2016, less than half of the 90,000 claims accepted last year.

Austria to more than halve refugee numbers in 2016
Refugees arriving at Vienna's Westbahnhof station. File photo: Caritas

“We can't take in all asylum seekers in Austria,” Chancellor Werner Faymann said on Wednesday after a national asylum summit in Vienna.

The government plans to limit the total amount of claims to “about 130,000” over the next four years, on top of those filed in 2015.

“We have fixed this number as a guideline… We will study what happens when this limit is reached,” Faymann noted.

The four-year cap, which represents 1.5 percent of Austria's 8.5 million population, was an “emergency solution” serving as a “wake-up call for the EU”, the chancellor added.

State and federal leaders also discussed strengthening border controls, speeding up the deportations of failed asylum applicants and making it harder for family members to join those who settle in Austria.

The move is a further sign that the government is hardening its stance in Europe's worst refugee crisis since 1945.

Austria has become a key transit country for hundreds of thousands of migrants and refugees entering the EU – last year alone it processed 90,000 asylum seeker applications.

The influx has contributed to a surge in popularity of the far-right and sparked tensions within the ruling centrist coalition between Faymann's Social Democrats (SPÖ) and the conservative ÖVP party.

Until recently, Faymann had resisted the ÖVP's call for limiting asylum-seekers' numbers. But the coalition showed a united front on Wednesday, with both sides agreeing that a “drastic reduction” was needed.

The announcement comes in the same week as the launch of tougher border controls and the expected completion of a fence on Austria's main frontier crossing with Slovenia. The 3.7 kilometre barrier – set to be ready by Friday – will be the first of its kind inside the EU's passport-free Schengen zone.

Austria also signalled last week that it would follow neighbouring Germany's lead and begin turning back any new arrivals seeking to claim asylum in Scandinavia.

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.

SHOW COMMENTS