2800 asylum seekers sent home from Austria

Nearly 2,800 asylum seekers have been sent home by Austria in the first three months of the year as the country steps up its programme to encourage people to leave.

2800 asylum seekers sent home from Austria
Asylum seekers arriving in Austria. EPA/GYORGY VARGA

The figures compare to last year, when a total of 8,365 failed asylum seekers were deported to their homelands.

In recent months Austria has been encouraging asylum seekers go home voluntarily by providing a stipend, which is seen as a cheaper option than housing people in detention centres. The move is part of the country’s plan to return 50,000 asylum seekers back home by 2019.

An asylum seeker who leaves the country voluntarily within three months receive €500, those who leave within six months get €250, and after six months, they get €50.

Of the latest figures released this week, 890 were forcibly deported and 1,896 agreed to leave voluntarily. Among those persuaded to return were 623 Iraqis, 278 Iranians and 273 Afghans.

Head of the Federal Office for Asylum (BFA) Wolfgang Taucher says that some asylum seekers are feeling homesick and no longer want to live in limbo and despair in refugee centres in Europe.

“We were promised something different before we came”, is the sentiment often heard by Taucher from some asylum seekers living in Austrian refugee centres, according to the Kurier.

Taucher believes more people would be interested in returning but do not want to lose face by asking relatives back home to help pay for a return flight.

A new BFA project to encourage people to leave will be piloted in refugee centres, initially aimed at asylum seekers from Afghanistan, Nigeria and Morocco.

Working in partnership with NGOs Caritas and Human Rights Austria, the BFA plans to distribute information explaining that flights and medical care will be covered for those who want to return voluntarily.


‘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.