The laws relating to the reception of asylum seekers include no mechanism for identifying vulnerable persons with special needs. Article 2(1) GVG-B states that regard should be given to special needs when the asylum seeker is registered in the Basic Care System. Basic Care conditions shall safeguard human dignity at least. After the asylum seeker has submitted the asylum application, a general health examination is carried out and asylum seekers are obliged to undergo this examination, including a TBC (Tuberculosis) examination. All asylum seekers have health insurance. For necessary medical treatment they may be transferred to a hospital.
The Basic Care laws of Lower Austria, Salzburg, Tyrol and Vorarlberg, Burgenland, Carinthia, Upper Austria mention special needs of vulnerable persons. The elderly, handicapped, pregnant women, single parents, children, victims of torture, rape or other forms of severe psychological, physical or sexual violence are considered as vulnerable persons, victims of trafficking. In the laws of the federal province of Vienna, vulnerable asylum seekers are not mentioned. Nevertheless, the federal provinces have to respect national and international law, including the recast Reception Conditions Directive. A special monitoring mechanism is not in place. It is up to the asylum seeker, social adviser, social pedagogue or the landlord to ask for adequate reception conditions.
The monthly amount of €2,480 for nursing care in specialised facilities is included in the Basic Care Agreement between the State and the federal provinces, which describes the material reception conditions.
Approximately 235 adequate care centres were available by the end of 2015 for people with special needs.1
Finally, traumatised or ill asylum seekers may be cared for in facilities of NGOs with places for persons with higher need of care (“Sonderbetreuungsbedarf”). In the last years, the number of places for asylum seekers with disabilities or other special needs of care increased. There are two special care centres at the federal level:
Sonderbetreuungszentrum Graz Andritz with a maximum capacity of 100 persons;
Gallspach with a capacity of 110 persons.
In addition, special care centres for 25 persons are provided in Traiskirchen in the Reception Centre East.
The specific allocation of a person in need of special care to the particular special care centre is clarified in each individual case on the basis of the specific health situation. On the basis of a specific care concept, the medical cases are placed in the appropriate care facility.
The special care centre Graz Andritz offers the best possible medical care for patients with regular or special care and treatment needs e.g. cancer patients, persons with cardiovascular diseases, epileptics, diabetics, patients in the drug replacement program etc., due to the optimal accessibility of the Graz Country Hospital. It has a specially equipped doctor's station. In addition to medical staff, the care provider ORS is responsible for the care of the asylum seekers who are housed there, and also offers an operational manager, 22 social assistants as well as a trained clinical psychologist.
The special care centre in Upper Austria Gallspach is completely handicapped-accessible and has the necessary equipment for the accommodation of physically impaired asylum seekers. The centre is mainly for the accommodation of asylum seekers with physical afflictions, as well as with psychiatric disorders or psychosomatic diagnoses due to the proximity to the clinic in Wels-Grieskirchen, specialised in the treatment of psychosomatic diseases. Of the 12 social care providers of ORS, four have a relevant education in the health and care sector, one is a trained clinical psychologist. In addition, medical staff will be involved in the care.
In the Reception Centre East-East in Traiskirchen, asylum seekers with disabilities are accommodated in a barrier-free building (house 1).
The needs of ill, handicapped asylum seekers and asylum seekers with nursing care are not sufficiently met. There is no allowance to cover extra costs as long as nursing care is provided by relatives or friends. NGOs have to employ professionals if they offer places for asylum seekers with special – mainly medical – needs. The maximum daily fee for special care of severely ill asylum seekers is €42.
Single women/mothers are accommodated in a separate building of the EAST Traiskirchen. There are also some special facilities throughout federal provinces for this particularly vulnerable group.
For single women, there are some specialised reception facilities, one in the EAST and a few others run by NGOs. In bigger facilities of NGOs, separated rooms or floors are dedicated for single women. There may also be floors for families. The protection of family life for core family members is laid down in the law of the federal provinces.2 For family members who arrived in the framework of Family Reunification and receive Basic Care as asylum seekers, there is no satisfactory solution if the person with refugee status does not have a suitable private flat. The family may be separated until the status is granted, because recognised refugees can no longer live in the Basic Care centre. It is also problematic that provinces such as Styria refrain from granting any basic care to asylum seekers in the family reunification process. According information from Caritas Styria, the person with asylum status is no longer in basic care, but usually receives minimum benefits (Mindestsicherung). This income is taken into consideration when calculating the benefits to be allocated to the family members coming to Austria within the framework of family reunification. As a result, the arriving family members are not entitled to basic care.3
If the asylum application is declared inadmissible under the Dublin III Regulation, detention may be ordered. While in the past families had often been separated when pre-expulsion detention was ordered to one or more adult family members and less coercive measures were applied to children family members, this practice ceased with the establishment of a special closed facility for families.
There are only a few reception facilities with more than 80 or 100 places, almost all run by NGOs in Vienna. Hostels and inns have between 20 and 40 places. Therefore separation of single women from single men is not the rule but separate toilets and bathrooms are foreseen.
As of November 2016, one third of about 80,900 persons in the Basic Care system were minors, while 32% are female.4
Unaccompanied asylum-seeking children are placed in special facilities mostly run by NGOs. In the EAST Traiskirchen and other reception facilities under the responsibility of the Ministry of Interior, ORS, a private enterprise, is responsible for the care of unaccompanied children. Since 2014 several new facilities for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children opened, some of them run by private companies or the Children and Youth Assistance. Those under 14 years are cared for in socio-pedagogic institutions of the federal provinces.5
At the end of 2016, 450 unaccompanied minors were accommodated and cared for in the centres under the responsibility of the Ministry of Interior, while the total number of unaccompanied children in Basic Care was over 5,600.6 The Ombudsman stressed in a 2016 report that unaccompanied children, in particular, needed appropriate accommodation after their arrival. She found that the Ministry of Interior, starting from November 2015, placed about 300 unaccompanied minors and about 100 family members in a former market hall in Leoben. The Ombudsman criticised the large number of housed male unaccompanied children of different ethnicity. Lack of professional support for the partially traumatised adolescents led to regular nightly police operations because of conflicts. The Ombudsman therefore repeated the recommendation of several small initial reception centres. This would allow better care for vulnerable groups and avoid ethnic conflicts.7
Basic Care provisions for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children reflect the need of care with regard to accommodation and psychosocial care. Unaccompanied asylum-seeking children must be hosted according to their need for guidance and care. The daily fee for NGOs hosting unaccompanied asylum-seeking children ranges from €40.50 to €95 depending on the intensity of psychosocial care. Unaccompanied asylum-seeking children with higher need of care are accommodated in groups with one social pedagogue responsible for the care of 10 children; those who are not able to care for themselves must be accommodated in dorms, where one social pedagogue takes care of 15 children. A third group, which is that of those who are instructed and able to care for themselves live in supervised flats. For this group, one social pedagogue is responsible for 20 children.
A report on the legal situation of unaccompanied children in Austria was published in October 2016 by SOS Children’s Villages. The report points out that the relevant Austrian laws do not differentiate between Austrian and non-Austrian nationals,8 and therefore asylum-seeking children are entitled to child and youth welfare to the same extent as Austrian children. It also states that the regulations on basic care (Grundversorgung) are not specific to child and youth welfare regulations, and therefore must be applied cumulatively; child and youth welfare must provide the required educational and psychological help in addition to the basic care regime, which aims to address basic living needs. The legal opinion concludes that the daily rates (Tagsätze) for unaccompanied children, which are lower than child and youth welfare provisions for Austrian children, are a problem, since unaccompanied children are entitled to the same services as Austrian children. This does not necessarily mean, however, that the daily rates need to be equivalent.9 Similar concerns have previously been raised by the Ombudsman expressed in a report on Burgenland published in June 2015.10
In most cases the transfer of an unaccompanied asylum-seeking child from the initial reception centre to Basic Care facilities of the federal provinces takes place without knowledge of the specific needs of the child. In Vienna, with several accommodation facilities for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children, NGOs may arrange a type of accommodation suitable for their client easier than in federal provinces without different facilities. It is to be doubted that, for example, minors in Styria do not have a high need for care. There is no establishment in Styria with the highest care rate of €95, although several hundred unaccompanied minors are living there. In Styria the care key is 1:15. This is sufficient for asylum seekers from an age of 14, who have a higher degree of independence, and to a large extent, the affected adolescents are older than 16 years, as mentioned by the responsible provincial counsellor. Children under 14 years of age generally fall under the responsibility of the child and youth welfare service and are currently cared for by families.11
Since 2016, unaccompanied minors may also live with families. Several federal provinces offer such possibilities. The responsibility remains at the Youth Welfare Agency.
The Youth Welfare Agency is responsible for providing adequate guidance and care. It is unclear who is responsible for the legal representation of those children; the legal adviser who has to fulfil their tasks in the EAST, or the Children and Youth Assistance, which becomes responsible after the child is allocated to a federal province.
Social educational and psychological care for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children shall stabilize their psychic constitution and create a basis of trust according to the description of the Basic Care provisions for unaccompanied asylum seeking children in some of the federal provinces’ Basic Care Laws. Furthermore daily organised activities (e.g. education, sport, group activities, and homework) and psychosocial support are foreseen, taking into account age, identity, origin and residence of family members, perspective for the future and integration measures.
The Ministry of the Interior has set up special care centres for unaccompanied child refugees. In the SBS Schwarzenberg in Salzburg, 81 unaccompanied asylum-seekers children above the age of fifteen were accommodated, including 65 Afghans, as of 15 September 2016.
The average length of stay in the Schwarzenberg centre is 141 days. During this time, the company ORS offers language courses, information of basic values, rights and duties, sports and assistance in remunerative activities. There are 20 employees partly trained educators and partly in on-the-job training. A psychologist is present on three days a week. So far, there have been two suicide attempts with accommodation in children's and youth psychiatry; as well as subsequent transfer to another care centre.
The Schwarzenberg centre has a specially equipped doctor's office, which is run three times a week by physicians. In addition, a nurse and an ordination assistant are on site five days a week.12 This care centre is going to be closed by the end of February 2017.
The Ministry of Interior and the competent department of the federal provinces have agreed on a quota system for unaccompanied children.13 The concept of foster families for unaccompanied minor asylum-seekers is not foreseen in Austrian law. Nevertheless, the Children and Youth Assistance may place children with foster families or smaller children in facilities of the Children and Youth Assistance. A few places are available for those children who have reached the age 18, responding to their higher need of care compared with older adults. This possibility corresponds to youth welfare regulations, stating that under special circumstances the youth welfare agency will care for young adults up to the age of 21.
Information gathered by Asylkoordination in the fall of 2016,14 from 40 NGOs caring for unaccompanied minors, showed that 10.6% of accommodated children need medication ordered by a psychiatrist: some suffer from depression ranging up to danger of suicide, others from borderline and adjustment disorder. A further 9% are thought to be suffering from a mental illness, but there is no diagnosis yet because the young people refuse an investigation for fear of stigma, or due to delays an assessment has not yet taken place. About 5% are in therapy and do not take medication. According to the opinion of the caregivers, about 15% were in urgent need of therapy. 8% were moved to another facility due to their striking behavior (threats, violence against staff or other residents), but in one third of cases the behavioural problems were not improved.
- 1. Ministry of Labour, Social Affairs and Consumer Protection, Nationaler Aktionsplan Behinderung - Zwischenbilanz 2012-2015, available in German at: http://bit.ly/2lbWTXQ, 198.
- 2. See e.g. Article 2 of the Basic Care Act Salzburg, Official Gazette Salzburg Nr 35/2007, 30 May 2007 or Official Gazette Upper Austria Nr. 15/2007, 15 February 2007.
- 3. FRA, Monthly data collection: September 2016, available at: http://bit.ly/2k2wcko, para 1.5.3.
- 4. Ministry of Interior, Reply to parliamentary question 10821/J (XXV.GP), 17 January 2017, available in German at: http://bit.ly/2kS7F5z.
- 5. Der Standard, Frequently Asked Questions on Unaccompanied children, 3 August 2015, available in German at: http://bit.ly/1gGuyE3.
- 6. Ministry of Interior, Reply to parliamentary question 10821/J (XXV.GP), 17 January 2017, available in German at: http://bit.ly/2kS7F5z.
- 7. Ombudsman, Kontrolle der öffentlichen Verwaltung 2015, March 2016, available in German at: http://bit.ly/2kSpv8n.
- 8. Austrian Civil Code (ABGB) and Federal Child and Youth Welfare Act (B-KJHG).
- 9. SOS Kinderdorf, Gutachten zu Rechtsproblemen von SOS-Kinderdorf – Österreich mit unbegleiteten minderjährigen Flüchtlingen, Innsbruck, 27 October 2016, available in German at: http://bit.ly/2kr5LIB.
- 10. Ombudsman, Bericht der Volksanwaltschaft an den burgenländischen Landtag, Bericht 2013-2014, June 2015, available at: http://bit.ly/1PbKxG7.
- 11. Parliament of Styria, Reply to question 496/1 on “Quality of reception of child refugees”, 24 February 2016, available in German at: http://bit.ly/2l0kXv3.
- 12. Ministry of Interior, Reply to parliamentary question 10067/J (XXV.GP), 13 October 2016, available in German at: http://bit.ly/2l56HR8.
- 13. Die Presse, ‘Länder beschließen Quote für unbegleitete Minderjährige’ (Federal provinces agree on quota for unaccompanied minors), 6 May 2015, available in German at: http://bit.ly/1ZgsjrH.
- 14. Unpublished survey. These 40 reception centres cared for 924 unaccompanied child asylum seekers.