Welcome to Austria: because everyone counts!

Kartenset Willkommen in Österreich
  • Third updated edition of info cards “Willkommen in Österreich: weil jeder Mensch zählt!” is out and available at ERSTE Foundation.
  • Already EUR 190.000 spent for integration projects in Austria co-organised by volunteering Erste Group and savings banks staff.

The majority of the people who fled their home countries in 2015 to seek refuge and safety in Europe travelled to Germany, most of them passing through Austria. But some 90,000 stayed in Austria. Since then, the country discusses intensely its attitude towards refugees and people on the move in Europe. Like many other countries in Europe, Austria experienced a tidal wave of people willing to help and quickly mobilised a strong civil society that was able to react fast and, in many places, fill the gap in primary care needs, which the slower administrative apparatus was unable to bridge.

In many cases, however, the people seeking protection were met with a great deal of scepticism. Fears led to defensive reactions. As a result, ERSTE Foundation sought to provide a flexible response to the sudden emergency situation and got involved in refugee aid, focusing on two key issues:

  • educating and informing the populations in the municipalities taking in refugees
  • encouraging people to get personally involved in facilitating the reception of refugees in their own communities

Welcome to Austria: because everyone counts!
With the initiative Welcome to Austria: because everyone counts!, we have drawn on the most important resource of Erste Group, in which ERSTE Foundation owns the largest stake: its staff members. Erste Group and the Austrian savings banks count more than 20.000 employees all over the country. The project aims to raise awareness of the situation of refugees among the staff members of Erste Group and the savings banks throughout Austria and encourage them to get involved in voluntary work in the long term.

Welcome to Austria: because everyone counts! also focuses on providing education and information. The rejection and anger that refugees faced in many places across Austria was often based on fears and worries which could be addressed with empathy and clear information. Experience has shown that clear and comprehensive information – e.g. about the number of refugees Austria has already taken in, about the extent of their allowances or about the asylum-seeking process – significantly increases people’s willingness to welcome and accept refugees.

Therefore, ERSTE Foundation produced a sets of information cards in a handy format, containing all the relevant facts and figures on the issue of refugees in German language. A first circulation of 22,000 was printed to be given to every staff member of Erste Group and the Austrian savings banks. The aim was also to encourage staff to share this information with other people and ensure that the information was readily available during the voluntary activities.

This worked apparently so well, that also other people, even professional NGOs and public institutions asked for the card set. A second revisited edition was printed in January, this time 15.000 copies. We, again, run out of stock in April. Now, the third edition (10.000 copies) is availabe including the new Austrian laws adopted by the parliament in May 2016.

Your free copy of the card set (in German) is available – while stocks last – at ERSTE Foundation: office@erstestiftung.org


Wanderausflug in Vorarlberg

Vorarlberg, Austria: mountain hiking tour of colleagues of the Savings Bank Dornbirn with refugees

The ERSTE Foundation Refugee Fund

In addition to providing education and information, we wanted to motivate staff members to get actively involved in voluntary work. Be it organising a welcome party, trips or art workshops, offering shuttle services or German language courses, creating an information service to address the concerns of fellow citizens, or providing housing – the aim was not only to initiate but specifically support local initiatives organised by staff members.

To this end, ERSTE Foundation set up a fund in December 2015. The ERSTE Foundation Refugee Fund finances exclusively projects initiated by the staff members of Erste Group and the Austrian savings banks. Funding may range from EUR 100 to EUR 3,500 and must be dedicated to local projects that facilitate the reception and inclusion of refugees, thus contributing to a climate of acceptance within the community. A selection committee consisting of members of ERSTE Foundation, the savings bank association and Caritas Vienna decides which projects will be funded. Acceptance criteria include the impact of the projects on the refugees and the community, their feasibility and a realistic time schedule.

The fund has a total of EUR 500,000 at its disposal. Until now, it already allocated EUR 190,000. Welcome to Austria: because everyone counts! was set up to provide long-term funding. It shall continue to support many small initiatives in 2016 to help cope with the current social challenges.

You can find inspiring stories of a lot of projects, information on refugees and asylum in Austria to download and a large collection of links to NGOs and interesting websites (all in German) her: www.weil-jeder-mensch-zaehlt.at