Austrian activist arrested after refugee river drama

An Austrian volunteer was among those arrested in Macedonia in connection to the dangerous river crossing undertaking by thousands of refugees, three of whom died in the process.

Austrian activist arrested after refugee river drama

Around 1,500 refugees had crossed the ice-cold river that borders Greece and Macedonia, hoping to continue their journey to Europe and avoid deportation to Turkey, after activists reportedly distributed leaflets explaining how to cross the ‘dry’ river.

Three refugees from Afghanistan, including a pregnant woman and her teenage sister, drowned hours before the mass crossing while trying to navigate the river themselves.

Hundreds were also taken back to the border by the military border police after making the crossing.

Along with around 40 journalists, activists and volunteers, Austrian volunteer and photographer Fanny Müller-Uri, from Vienna, was temporarily arrested by authorities in Macedonia in connection to the journey taken by the refugees.

The group was detained by authorities for 12 hours, had their cameras taken from them, and made to pay a fine of around 300 Euros before being released.

Following her release Müller-Uri has said that she was not aware of any leaflets that explained how to cross the river and that the refugees have their own information networks.

“The people who make this journey don’t need such directions. Firstly, they know the way themselves and secondly, they enter into it with full awareness of the risks,” she told APA.

Leaflets seen by British media, however, reportedly gave detailed instructions on how to reach the river, including a map.

Müller-Uri  also added that some of the international police supporting Macedonian authorities verbally abused the journalists and she also saw disputes among the different forces about who was in charge.

The Austrian activist has since returned to Idomeni, the Greek-Macedonian border town where thousands of refugees have been stranded in recent weeks, to continue working with the ‘Moving Europe’ project that informs people on the move about their legal rights.


‘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.