Willkommen in Österreich – weil jeder Mensch zählt!

ERSTE Foundation supports employees of Erste Bank and savings banks in Austria to set-up activities for a better integration of refugees. They organize German lessons, excursions to a Viennese aquarium, workshops for Christmas cookies bakery, football trainings in local sports Clubs, groups for knitting, hiking, climbing, gardening, art therapy … There is no limit for good ideas. Over 20 projects have been already granted with more than 60,000 Euro. Proposals come from all over Austria.

Countless people are currently being forced to flee their home countries and seek refuge and safety in Europe. The current situation, which over the past 12 months has seen well over a million refugees pouring into Germany mainly through Austria, has triggered a tidal wave of people willing to help. Austria faces the challenge that as well as thousands of people passing through, more than 90,000 wanted to stay and seek asylum in Austria only in 2015. Bigger and smaller communities must find a way to accommodate them permanently and in a humane manner. This applies to both asylum seekers and people who have already been granted asylum. They are seeking protection but will then be also looking for housing and jobs. Sustainable integration into society will not be easy, it is essential for civil society to play an active part and provide specific assistance.

Visiting Haus des Meeres
“Look at all those fish!” Visiting “Haus des Meeres”, an aquarium in Vienna.

We at ERSTE Foundation have also asked ourselves how we could contribute to this big, collective, social task. From the outset, ERSTE Foundation has aimed to create and support structures for long-term civil-society engagement. This is why we usually work with NGOs and other foundations. In this particular case, the issue is a matter that affects us personally and also all of our colleagues in Erste Group and in the savings bank sector. Therefore we initiated a project where everyone of our colleagues in the bank could and still can get involved. As the largest shareholder of Erste Group and a member of the savings bank family, we believe that creating conditions that will enable the entire group to get involved is our core task.

“Willkommen in Österreich – weil jeder Mensch zählt” (Welcome to Austria – because everyone counts) encourages and empowers committed staff members of Erste Bank and the savings banks to help municipalities welcome, accommodate and integrate refugees and asylum seekers in Austria. In a first step in November and December 2015, we organised together with experts from Caritas info sessions all-over Austria to answer questions, to dispel fears and scepticism about the arrival of asylum seekers and provide a real picture of the situation with clear facts for those who are worried and particularly for those who want to help.

CoverA handy card-set provides facts to the staff members, a website deepens them and offers further information in a comprehensive link list for Austria. The Q & A touches topics like “What do refugees receive from the state?”, “Who is entitled to asylum?”, “Are there housing allowances for asylum seekers?”, “How many refugees are currently in Austria?” and many more.

Parallel to this, ERSTE Foundation endowed a fund worth EUR 500,000 to finance specific activities by staff members with the aim of facilitating the reception of asylum seekers and those who have been granted asylum. Various actors such as municipalities, savings banks, voluntary staff members and local NGOs should join forces.

The website www.weil-jeder-mensch-zaehlt.at (in German only) provides information for the staff members on how they can access funds, what costs they will cover, how they can apply for them. The maximum funding amount is EUR 3,500. It also includes links to helpful portals and websites, and tips and hints on how people can get involved. At www.weil-jeder-mensch-zaehlt.at, we report on current developments, publish the dates of information events and provide further facts and figures.

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Students in Klagenfurt can lend computers for their studies.

There we also present the projects and initiatives in the communities and municipalities. The reports are telling stories about how in Vienna during a bakery workshop a former baker from Syria was “discovered”, that in Carinthia many young refugees qualified for university and higher school education, and that in general the interest for the country and its customs is huge at all new arrivals.