How Austria is preparing to accept Ukrainian refugees

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has already pushed close to one million refugees to seek shelter elsewhere throughout Europe. Here’s how Austria is preparing.

A sticker saying
A sticker saying "refugees welcome" on a post. Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

On Wednesday afternoon, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) estimated that 875,000 refugees have left Ukraine since Russia’s invasion – with 200,000 leaving the country in the previous 24 hours. 

While most have been accommodated in neighbouring states – around half have made it to Poland while a further 115,000 have crossed into Hungary – so far 3,000 people have been registered in Austria. 

Austria is planning for a possible influx in the coming days. 

Both local and long-distance public transport has been made free for all Ukrainians to allow them to travel through or within Austria to their final destination. 

READ MORE: Austria announces free public transport for people fleeing Ukraine

Federally, 3,000 fully subsidised childcare places have been made available. 

Authorities in the capital Vienna have already prepared 300 beds for refugee arrivals near the Stadioncenter. The centre will be put into full operation on Thursday, authorities confirmed to Austria’s Der Standard newspaper

In Burgenland, the Nova Rock hall in Nicklesdorf is being converted to prepare for refugee arrivals and will be ready by Saturday. 

The Federal Agency for Care and Support Services (BBU) has already received hundreds of offers from private individuals, with 1,500 offers received on Wednesday alone. 

Anyone seeking a place to stay is urged to contact [email protected] .

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REVEALED: What is Austria’s emergency plan if Russia cuts gas supply?

Amid fears about what would happen if gas supplies to Austria were disrupted, the Federal Government has put together a package of measures to create a strategic gas reserve.

REVEALED: What is Austria's emergency plan if Russia cuts gas supply?

It has been well reported that Austria is heavily reliant on Russian natural gas – but what would happen if supplies were suspended or stopped altogether?

Austria sources 80 percent of its gas from Russia, so the country would be seriously impacted if supplies were disrupted due to the war in Ukraine, a breakdown of diplomatic relations or any other unforeseen event. 

This is why the Federal Government has now unveiled a package of measures to protect Austria’s gas reserves in the event of an energy emergency.

READ MORE: ‘An unprecedented situation’: How would a gas embargo impact Austria?

What is in the package?

Energy Minister Leonore Gewessler and Finance Minister Magnus Brunner presented the plans following a meeting in the Council of Ministers on Wednesday, May 18th.

The most important points include an increase of the strategic gas reserve by 7.4 terawatt hours (TWh) to 20 TWh. This would cover Austria’s gas consumption for two winter months but the additional gas would not be sourced from Russia, according to the Kronen Zeitung

Gewessler said: “This measure will significantly reduce dependence on Russian gas.”

Increasing the strategic reserve with non-Russian supplies will reduce Austria’s dependence on Russian gas to 70 percent, Gewessler added.

Additionally, gas storage facilities located in Austria – such as the Haidach facility in Salzburg – must be connected to the Austrian gas grid. Haidach, which is supplied by Gasprom, is currently only connected to Germany’s pipeline network and has not been refilled for some time.

Finally, any unused gas in company storage facilities should be surrendered to the government if needed. Companies will be financially compensated for this.

READ ALSO: Austrian Economy Minister says gas embargo would be ‘red line’

What about next winter?

Federal Chancellor Karl Nehammer has already said that gas storage facilities in Austria have to be 80 percent full before the next autumn and winter season.

The storage level is currently at 26 percent, reports Der Standard.

Gewessler also appealed to the Austrian public to make changes to help reduce the dependence on gas for energy, calling for more gas boilers to be replaced with other heating systems.

She said: “Together we are strong and together we can achieve this feat.”

READ MORE: What would an embargo on Russian oil mean for Austria?