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REFUGEE CRISIS

IMMIGRATION

Four ways to help refugees in Austria

The European Union is struggling to cope with a huge influx of refugees, many risking their lives to flee violence in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. If you want to help refugees arriving in Austria, here's how.

Four ways to help refugees in Austria
Refugees have been sleeping in the grounds of the Traiskirchen reception centre. Photo: ORF

Austria had over 20,000 asylum applications in the first five months of 2015 alone – and officials expect the total to reach 80,000 this year.

Reception centres are packed, and some hostels for asylum seekers have been accused of inadequate care. The situation is pretty desperate. Many people feel powerless to help when they read the newspaper headlines, but here are four things you can do to help:

Volunteer

There are several charitable organisations in Austria dedicated to helping refugees. Volunteering at one of these is one of the best ways to make a difference, as you will have the chance to make personal contact with asylum seekers and help provide them with clothes, food and water. In return, you will get a new perspective, meet different kinds of people, and gain the eternal gratitude of those in need.

To sign up go to: https://freiwilligfuerwien.echonet.at/home/fluechtlingshilfe/54 or contact organisations such as Caritas, Diakonie, Volkshilfe and Don Bosco Flüchtlingswerk.

Provide accommodation

Instead of letting piles of junk accumulate in your spare room why not change a refugee’s life by providing them with long-term accommodation. Finding accommodation is always one of the main challenges for a refugee, and providing them with a safe, secure roof over their head which is not in a mass accommodation centre will make a huge difference.

To sign up, fill out the form at: https://freiwilligfuerwien.echonet.at/home/wohnraum/54.

Alternatively, if you live in a flat share, the organisation Flüchtlinge Willkommen (Refugees Welcome) will match you up with a suitable refugee house mate, and assist with paying the rent. More information here: http://www.fluechtlinge-willkommen.at/

Donate your unwanted possessions

There are numerous organisations which will donate your unwanted possessions to refugees who will really appreciate them. Alternatively, you can donate new hygiene products to charities such as Caritas, who will create packages for refugees. They are currently seeking items such as razors, deodorant, shampoo, toothpaste, toothbrushes, sun cream, face cream, bandages and nappies. The retail firm ‘dm’ is working with Diakonie and Caritas and has set up a new initiative across Austria to help provide refugees with these items. Customers can pay €5, €10 or €20 at the tills of any dm store and donate a ‘Welcome Package’ of the same value to refugees.

Donate money

Donating €20 will buy a waterproof sleeping bag for a refugee. €21 will provide safe accommodation for the night. €50 will buy a mattress, and a further €45 will give a refugee a duvet and pillows. To donate to Caritas, follow this link: https://www.caritas-wien.at/spenden-helfen/aktuelle-spendenaufrufe/hilfe-fuer-fluechtlinge/.

The bank details of the organisation are listed under ‘3. Geldspenden’.

By Claire Caruth.

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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