How Austria and Austrians are helping Ukrainian refugees

As the number of refugees increases with the ongoing war, Austria has received thousands of people already.

People attend a demonstration against the Russian invasion of Ukraine in Vienna on March 5, 2022. (Photo by ALEX HALADA / AFP)
People attend a demonstration against the Russian invasion of Ukraine in Vienna on March 5, 2022. (Photo by ALEX HALADA / AFP)

The influx of Ukrainian refugees fleeing the war in their country is not slowing down. The United Nation’s current estimates are that more than 2.5 million people have fled since Russia invaded its neighbour two weeks ago. 

Austria has already received thousands of people, and it’s hard to keep track, as many continue their journeys to other European countries where they have family members or other connections. 

Those who want to stay, though, have been welcomed by the population. A new survey by Peter Hajek Institute showed that 85 per cent of Austrians favour admitting the displaced people, ORF reports.

Some 27,000 private places have been offered accommodation on the Federal Care Agency platform so far. Among the offers, 100 hotels are prepared to host the Ukrainian refugees for free.

READ MORE: How Austria is preparing to accept Ukrainian refugees

The government centres

Austria’s government has also set up several offers. In the federal quarters, 3,600 places have already been assigned, but up to 3,200 more could be offered. 

Four quarters were specially provided for refugees fleeing Ukraine in Graz-Puntigam, Villach, Ohlsdorf, and Mondsee – they receive a daily average of between 500 and 600 people. Vienna also has an arrival centre set up by Ernst Happel Stadium, where more than 8,500 have received help with emergency care, accommodation and information.

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

The influx of arrivals at Vienna Central Station has also increased, ÖBB says, and there are always from 200 to 300 refugees on site.

The number fluctuates as people leave the train station for the arrival centre or move on with their journey to other states and countries.

Hotline for refugees

Austria’s federal government has also set up a hotline to assist with information in Ukrainian. So far, they have received approximately 12,000 calls. 

The questions are mainly about getting access to needed medicine, how to gain entry to the job market, and what can be done if they’ve arrived with pets but can’t stay with the animals in the emergency shelters.

Change to upper limit for Ukrainian earnings

At a federal level, refugees from Ukraine will be allowed to earn up to 485 euros a month, instead of the usual 110 euros.

The decision was announced by the Interior Minister Gerhard Karner (ÖVP) after a conference with the refugee state councillors in Austria. There will also be an increased payment of 60 euros per month for people who are housing refugees.

This means that a total of 180 euros per person is available to pay for private accommodation, broadcaster ORF reports. This extra payment will also be available for anyone housing asylum seekers.

According to Karner, 40,000 people from Ukraine have already been registered so far, and around 7,000 are now available for the job market.

Vienna City Councillor Peter Hacker estimates that 200,000 to 250,000 people from Ukraine could seek shelter in Austria in future.


How you can help

There are several ways to help those affected by the war in Ukraine. For example, you can donate money or essential necessity items, host a displaced person from Ukraine, join demonstrations to show your support, be mindful of the information you share to help prevent fake news from spreading, and assist in the reception logistics of refugees.

You can read more here.

READ MORE: How people in Austria can help Ukraine

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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?