Drop in state funds puts Austrian refugee NGOs at risk

Drop in state funds puts Austrian refugee NGOs at risk
The Austrian government has come under fire for apparently reducing the amount of funding available for charities working with refugees.

Twelve NGOs received a letter from the Interior Ministry in February asking them to declare donations made to their refugee work so the equivalent figure can be deducted from federal funding given to the charities.

In the letter, the Ministry asked: “What level of donations have been made to support refugee work since September 4th 2015 and how much has already been used for this purpose so far.”

They went on to explain that this information would be used to calculate how much will be deducted from the state funding.

A spokesperson for the Interior Ministry told Der Standard newspaper that they are following an objection made by the Finance Ministry about how they were following the guidelines for granting money to NGOs.

According to the head of the Austrian Red Cross Gerry Foitik however, the move will bring some organisations “to the brink of insolvency”.

As well as the Red Cross, other organisations that received the letter include Johanniter, Volkshilfe Wien, Train of Hope, and the Islamische Föderation.

A spokesperson for the fundraising association Fundraising Verband Austria Günther Lutschinger told the ORF that the NGOs had taken over the role of the authorities, who have failed to properly care for refugees, and this measure is “an attack on the idea of donations”.

“If the state begins to abuse the charitable organisations for their own purpose, then they will stop things like civil society or charitable activity,” he said.

The letter may not be a total shock for the charities, however, as a special funding scheme in place between NGOs and the state since last autumn stipulated that the costs eligible to be funded do not include donations.

Some legal experts have warned that there may be some problems over the legality of excluding donations from eligible funding.

The current agreement only runs until the end of March and negotiations between the government and NGOs on the new rules regarding funding are currently underway.