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UKRAINE

How Austrian states are preparing for Ukrainian refugees

Vienna is the first destination for many refugees arriving in Austria, but regions elsewhere are also preparing to receive those fleeing the war in Ukraine.

Vienna station
Hundreds of refugees have been making their way by train to Vienna's main station over the past week. (Rebecca Rodriguez).

Since the start of the war in Ukraine on February 24th, around 150,000 refugees are believed to have arrived in Austria. 

Many have passed through to join family and friends in other countries but 7,000 people have already registered in Austria as a displaced person. 

This means they can access the labour market, health care and the benefits system for a year.

There are also reports that 2,000 refugees from Moldova will soon be airlifted to Austria in cooperation with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and Austrian Airlines, although this has not been confirmed.

With such a large influx of people, preparations are now underway across the country to support the refugees. Find out more about how you can help here.

READ MORE: How Vienna is helping thousands of Ukrainian refugees arriving by train

Vienna

Vienna is the main arrival point for many Ukrainian refugees in Austria and an arrival centre has been set up at Ernst Happel Stadium where people can access Covid-19 testing, psychological support and beds for the night. 

As a result, there is a steady stream of arrivals at Vienna’s Hauptbahnhof (Central Station) and ÖBB says there are usually 200 to 300 people onsite, although the number fluctuates as people move onto other cities or countries.

According to estimates by ÖBB, the Ministry of the Interior and the City of Vienna, 3,300 to 4,000 refugees from Ukraine arrive in Austria every day.

Travel for Ukrainian refugees is free on all train and city public transport networks in Austria (including the Wiener Linien), and over 4,000 people travelled out of Ukraine on Austria’s train network on Friday alone.

The charity Caritas is on site at Vienna’s main station around the clock. It has fifty employees on site and also mans an emergency shelter, open from 10pm, which sleeps 50 people.

Lower Austria

There are currently two arrival centres in Wiener Neustadt that can both accommodate around 100 people. Another centre is also being planned in St. Pöten for 80 to 100 refugees, as well as one in Schwechat for 50 to 70 people.

Around 6,000 private residences have already registered as accommodation for refugees from Ukraine, and organisations Caritas and Diakonie are responsible for allocating spaces.

The state government estimates there are between 700 to 1,000 refugees already in private homes in Lower Austria, with 300 people in organised accommodation and around 200 in reception centres.

READ MORE: EXPLAINED: What would ‘Austrian-style neutrality’ mean for Ukraine?

Upper Austria

It is estimated that 4,000 refugees from Ukraine are already in Upper Austria with 1,700 in emergency shelters or in accommodation provided by residents.

The registration of refugees is taking place at Linz Hauptbahnhof and the police station in Wels. Further reception centres will also be set up throughout the province.

In cooperation with the Red Cross, there are around 1,600 emergency sleeping places available in the state and more than 1,000 private homes have volunteered to host those fleeing the conflict.

Styria

A refugee arrival centre has been in operation at the Graz Messe (trade fair hall) since Wednesday where people can register and receive medical care.

There are no plans to house people in the trade hall so there are no beds at the centre. Instead, refugees will be taken to private accommodation in the community. Others have already been placed in a container village in Graz-Puntigam.

Within the first three hours of the centre opening on Wednesday, around 200 people from Ukraine were registered as displaced persons.

According to ORF, there are approximately 4,000 accommodation places available across the state but there are calls for more amid fears they will quickly run out. 

Caritas estimates up to 12,000 people from Ukraine might arrive in Styria.

Burgenland

Around 600 refugees have arrived in Burgenland via bus from the Slovakia-Ukraine border, with 15 trips made in total.

Everyone was assigned private accommodation due to residents in Burgenland opening up their homes.

Further accommodation is now being sought by the state government in anticipation of further arrivals and German courses are being organised for those that have already arrived.

READ ALSO: UPDATE: Almost 120,000 refugees have arrived in Austria from Ukraine

Salzburg

Salzburg is preparing to receive around 5,000 refugees from Ukraine and a Caritas information centre is open at Salzburg Hauptbahnhof.

Temporary accommodation has already been set up in the Salzburg Exhibition Centre (Messezentrum) where refugees are being received. Others are believed to be staying with friends and family.

But there are concerns about the long-term feasibility of the Exhibition Centre location with events booked at the venue throughout the year, as reported by the Kronen Zeitung.

As an alternative, Salzburg Mayor Harald Preuner of the Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP) has suggested setting up a giant tent near the arrivals centre of the Exhibition Centre to provide temporary accommodation.

The state government is also looking for other accommodation options – both long and short term.

Tyrol

The state of Tyrol has set up four reception centres at police stations in Reutte, Lienz, Imst and Kufstein. 

This is in addition to the main centre at Haus Marillac on Sennstrasse in Innsbruck where refugees can register, receive medical attention (including Covid-19 tests) and be assigned accommodation. The centre is open 24 hours a day.

There is also an information point at Innsbruck Hauptbahnhof, including signage and information in Ukrainian.

Additionally, there are calls from the Tyrolean New Austria and Liberal Forum (NEOS) to transform three hotels owned by a Russian oligarch into accommodation for refugees, as reported by The Local.

As of Thursday morning, 820 people from Ukraine had registered in Tyrol.

Vorarlberg

Bus companies in Vorarlberg are involved in delivering aid to Poland and returning with refugees to be accommodated in Austria. So far, almost two million refugees have arrived in Poland.

Caritas is also managing the offers of private accommodation and allocating places to refugees throughout the state. Apartments, houses, disused hotels and spaces in nursing homes have been offered.

Carinthia

The southern Austrian state of Carinthia is preparing for the arrival of more than 5,000 people fleeing the war in Ukraine.

Gabor Hall in Spittal is being prepared as temporary accommodation but other locations are also being sought by the state government.

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.

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ENERGY

‘Unimaginable’: Austria prepares to reopen coal power station

As an "emergency measure", Austria is getting ready to reopen a coal-fuelled power station near Graz amid fears there will be disruptions to the gas supply from Russia this winter.

'Unimaginable': Austria prepares to reopen coal power station

At the Mellach coal power plant in southern Austria, spider webs have taken over the conveyor belts, and plants and flowers have sprung up around the vast lot that once stored coal.

The plant, Austria’s last coal-fuelled power station, was closed in the spring of 2020, but now the government – nervous that Russia may cut its crucial gas deliveries further – has decided to get the site ready again in case it’s needed.

“I never would have imagined that we would restart the factory,” Peter Probst, a 55-year-old welder, told AFP during a visit of the plant.

“It’s really sad to be so dependent on gas,” he added.

READ ALSO: How to keep your apartment cool in Austria this summer amid rising energy prices

Europe had been trying to move away from coal in the fight against climate change.

But as Russia has cut gas deliveries in the wake of sanctions the West has imposed on it for the war in Ukraine, European countries are turning back to coal.

Today, the Mellach plant’s white and red chimney stands out amid fields of corn and pumpkins, the city of Graz in the distance.

Inside, the walls are black, and coal dust clings to the doors and railings.

Some 450,000 tonnes of coal were stored at the plant before its closure as Austria’s conservative-Greens coalition aimed to have all electricity come from renewable resources by 2030.

Site manager Christof Kurzmann-Friedl says the plant operated by supplier Verbund can be ready again in “about four months” — just in time to help tackle any gas shortages in winter.

READ MORE: When will you get your cost of living ‘bonus’ payments in Austria?

Welder Peter Probst reacts to the news that the coal-fuelled power plant in Mellach will be reopened. (Photo by JOE KLAMAR / AFP)

“Emergency measure”

Chancellor Karl Nehammer insisted on Monday that the plant would only go online if necessary, while Austria holds on to its goals to reduce emissions.

“It’s really an emergency measure,” the conservative told foreign correspondents at a briefing.

“It’s really something that shows how extraordinary our times are… We must prepare for any eventuality.”

The 230 megawatt power plant would take over from the nearby gas-fired plant, also operated by Verbund, which currently supplies heating to Graz’s 300,000 inhabitants, according to Kurzmann-Friedl.

FOR MEMBERS: EU oil embargo: How will the sanctions impact Austria?

He warned, however, that the site must still be readied, hooking up all the equipment again, in addition to hiring qualified personnel and above all finding enough coal.

Before, the coal mainly came from mines in Poland’s Silesia region, which the Polish government is aiming to shut.

Because coal prices have risen by as much as three times since 2020, the power produced by the plant will also be more expensive, Kurzmann-Friedl said.

Criticism has already flared with the opposition Social Democrats slamming the decision to reactivate the coal plant as “an act of desperation by the Greens”.

“Will the next step be the reactivation of Zwentendorf?” the opposition asked, referring to the country’s only nuclear power plant.

The Alpine nation of nine million people has been fiercely anti-nuclear with an unprecedented vote in 1978 against nuclear energy that prevented the plant from ever opening.

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