The legislation relating to the reception of asylum seekers does not foresee a mechanism for identifying vulnerable persons with special needs. Article 2(1) GVG-B states that attention should be paid to special needs when the asylum seeker is registered in the Basic Care System. As already mentioned, asylum seekers have to undergo a mandatory health examination after having submitted the asylum application. In principle, all asylum seekers should have health insurance and they may be transferred to a hospital for necessary medical treatments.
The Basic Care laws of Lower Austria, Salzburg, Tyrol and Vorarlberg, Burgenland, Carinthia, Upper Austria mention special needs of vulnerable persons. Elderly persons, handicapped persons, pregnant women, single parents, children, victims of torture, trafficking, rape or other forms of severe psychological, physical or sexual violence are considered as vulnerable persons. 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 the responsibility of the asylum seeker, social adviser, social pedagogue or the landlord to ask for adequate reception conditions from the relevant authority and service provider. Strategic litigation on the matter is very difficult due to the complexity of the legal situation.
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.
Not all federal provinces have special care centres for vulnerable groups besides unaccompanied children. Special care needs are often determined only after an asylum seeker has been placed into a reception centre in one of the provinces. In this regard, the Burgenland Court of Auditors stated that the allocation to a specific centre was the responsibility of the social department and should be based on a departmental list of criteria, which include inter alia marital status, gender, nationality, religion and age.
Reception of unaccompanied children
There are several facilities for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children. Some of them are run by private companies and others by the Children and Youth Assistance. Children aged less than 14 years are provided care in socio-pedagogic institutions of the federal provinces.
There are 2 reception centres for unaccompanied children managed by the Ministry of Interior, out of which one is a separate facility for unaccompanied children in the Federal Reception Centre EAST in Traiskirchen. Since 1 December 2020, the Federal Agency BBU GmbH is also responsible for the care of unaccompanied children.
As of 31 December 2018, there were 40 unaccompanied children accommodated in special federal reception centres, while another 1,479 were accommodated in specialised facilities in the different federal provinces. As of 7 November 2019, there were 69 unaccompanied children accommodated in special federal reception centres. After the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, the transfer to reception facilities in the provinces was massively delayed in 2020, partly due to insufficient COVID-19 test-management. This resulted in very high numbers of unaccompanied minors accommodated in large and inadequate federal facilities. In November 2020, around 240 children were accommodated in those facilities whereas in 2017 – when the number of applicants was much higher – only 91 were housed in federal centres. As of 21 January 2021, there were still 200 unaccompanied children accommodated in the federal reception centres.
An important concern is that from January to September 2020, only 126 children out of 888 minor applicants were transferred from the federal system to the states. Given that only around 200 children were being accommodated in federal facilities as of January 2021, it is still unclear what happened to the other children and where they are being accommodated. The NGO asylkoordination has counted around 350 missing children between January and September 2020, whereas 228 missing children with non-EU-citizenship were registered in the SIS II, of whom 61 were under 14 years old.
Reception of unaccompanied children at federal province level
Basic Care provision 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 to €95 depending on the services provided. Additional support may be provided by the Child and Youth Agency of the federal province. Unaccompanied asylum-seeking children are placed in three different groups depending on their needs. Accordingly, a social worker will be in charge of groups varying from maximum 10, 15 or 20 children depending on their needs (the higher the needs, the smaller the group).
The Ministry of Interior and the competent department of the federal provinces have agreed on a quota system for unaccompanied children.
The number of unaccompanied children, including asylum seekers, rejected asylum seekers and persons with a protection status, receiving Basic Care on 21 January 2021 was as follows:
|Unaccompanied children receiving Basic Care: 21 January 2021|
|Federal province||Total Basic Care recipients||Unaccompanied children|
|Initial reception centres (EAST)||1,534||200|
Source: Ministry of Interior, GVS Statistics
In some cases the transfer of an unaccompanied asylum-seeking child from the initial reception centre to Basic Care facilities of the federal provinces takes place randomly, without knowing what the specific needs of the child are.
Numerous facilities set up after 2015 have been phased out after the number of unaccompanied children arriving in Austria dropped. This decrease was also noted in 2019 and facilities have been closed accordingly. In 2020, facilities of the NGO Volkshilfe in Upper Austria have closed leaving few specialised accommodations. The type of facilities available in the different provinces varies from one province to another:
Carinthia, Tyrol and Burgenland only offer accommodation in residential groups.
Lower Austria and Upper Austria generally offer accommodation in residential groups, subject to a few exceptions. The daily rate of €95 for unaccompanied minors residential groups applies in Upper Austria only for groups of up to 20 people. Larger facilities receive a daily rate of €88. This amount should also cover the legal representation of the minors.
Salzburg: Children over the age of 14 are first housed in residential groups but may be assigned to other types of accommodation if deemed necessary by the care provider.
Vienna: Since 2015 only residential groups have been opened. There are still a few places for unaccompanied children with a lower level of care, however.
Styria: Styria has no residential groups for unaccompanied children. All children over the age of 14 are accommodated in dormitories or in assisted living. The situation in Styria is criticised by the Ombudsman, who recommends the establishment of residential groups in the future.
Since 2016, unaccompanied children may also live with families. Several federal provinces offer such possibilities. About 95 children lived with families in December 2018.
The Child and Youth Agency is responsible for providing adequate guidance and care to these children. However, it is unclear who is responsible for their legal representation during the admissibility procedure or during their stay in the reception centre, or for any other legal issue that may rise. It can be either a legal adviser acting as legal representative in the initial reception centre, or the Child and Youth Agency, which becomes responsible after the child is allocated to a federal province. An answer to a parliamentary request in December 2019 showed that half of the unaccompanied children disappeared after lodging an asylum application during the admissibility procedure. Media reports raised important attention to the fact that no authority is appointed as legal guardian for unaccompanied minors during the admissibility procedure. The government programme issued in January 2020 includes a plan to better ensure the protection of unaccompanied minors in the admissibility procedure, but this was still not implemented as of January 2021.
Some of the Basic care laws of certain federal provinces provide that social educational and psychological care for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children should stabilise their psychic condition and create trust. Furthermore daily-organised activities (e.g. education, sport, group activities, and homework) and psychosocial support are foreseen, taking into account the age, identity, origin and residence of family members, perspective for the future and integration measures.
A report on the situation of accompanied children in Austria published in 2019 by asylkoordination and UNICEF showed that accompanied children face – to a large extent – the same problems as those faced by unaccompanied minors. Moreover, some specific problematic issues have been identified; such as inadequate housing situations (due to often small accommodation places for large families) or role that children play as translators for their parents in certain situations etc.
Similar concerns have previously been raised by the Ombudsman expressed in a report on Burgenland published in June 2015, as well as in a report on a visit in Styria published in March 2018. The latter report states that, since mid-2017, Styria has improved the staff code with other federal provinces, reduced the benchmark for approved places from 40 to 30 minors and introduced a slightly higher daily rate for crisis care places. However, there are neither nationwide nor sufficient special socio-therapeutic care places for unaccompanied minors. The report demonstrates that, in 2017, unaccompanied minors with a highly problematic background changed facilities in a relatively short period of time. Furthermore, despite clear indications of mental illnesses or solid addictive behaviors requiring treatment, they showed no interest in undertaking psychiatric examinations or couldn’t do so because of the lack of offers.
The report further criticises the lack of staff in many institutions and the lack of qualified staff, especially regarding pedagogical care that is needed to deal with an emerging risk of radicalisation and to deal with persons with psychic issues. Also, the Ombudsman described a shared apartment that it had visited as being incompatible with pedagogical standards and qualified it as a humiliating treatment. The shared flat was closed shortly after the Commission’s visit and the young persons living there were transferred. In that regard, other basic care facilities were visited by the commissions and considered as impersonal, empty and/or cramped. Dorm rooms were sometimes so small that no retreat or visit opportunities existed and the environment was not adequate for learning. Minors were therefore sometimes found in a neglected state. As follow-up visits demonstrated, many issues were corrected after the NPM’s intervention. It was noted that a new system called “New authority’ – “Neue Autorität” – was being implemented: “Neue Autorität” is a systemic approach that strengthens managers, educators and parents. It enhances a respectful culture of relationships and encourages development processes. This also led to a better integration of the children into local communities.
Regarding the access to education, the report indicates that – apart from the minors that are enrolled in schools and attend lessons – young persons do not receive adequate training or further education everywhere. German courses are offered in some regions only once or twice a week and language remains an important barrier. This situation persisted throughout 2020 and was aggravated by the Covid-19-pandemic. An expert council on Integration of the Federal chancellery stated in August 2020, that the Covid-19-crisis deepens integration problems of migrants. According to the expert Council, children with a migrant background faced important obstacles and difficulties to cope with the new learning process resulting from home schooling.
A few places are available for children who have reached the age of 18 and who need higher care compared to adults. This possibility corresponds to youth welfare regulations, stating that under special circumstances the Child and Youth Agency will take responsibility for young adults up to the age of 21.
The Ombudsman observed that the situation of children aged more than 18 years old can be particularly precarious if they have to leave the unaccompanied minors’ homes although they are not sufficiently prepared to an independent life.
Children with special needs
Information gathered by Asylkoordination in the fall of 2016, demonstrated that 10.6% of accommodated children needed medication ordered by a psychiatrist. It indicated that some suffered from depression, suicidal thoughts and mental disorders. A further 9% were suspected to be suffering from a mental illness, although there was no diagnostic yet as most of them refused to undergo an investigation – out of fear of being stigmatised or due to delays in the assessments. Another 5% were in therapy and were not taking medication. According to the caregivers, about 15% were in urgent need of therapy. 8% were further moved to another facility due to their behaviour (threats, violence against staff or other residents), but in one third of the cases the behavioural problems did not improve.
The Ombudsman has criticised Lower Austria for not providing additional funding for children with mental illness. The federal province responded that the higher daily rate of €95 paid for Basic Care since July 2016 should cover any additional costs. Following criticism from the Ombudsman, the province of Styria has introduced a supplementary package of €18 from July 2018 onwards for unaccompanied children with special care needs. This brings the daily rate in Styria to €95. NGOs from Styria reported that families with severely ill children were not placed in reception facilities for persons with special needs, on the grounds that their parents should have enough resources to take care for them.
Reception of women and families
Special facilities exist in some of the federal provinces to welcome single women and mothers. In the initial reception centre of Traiskirchen, for example, single women are accommodated in a separate building.
Some specialised reception facilities for single women are run by NGOs. In bigger facilities, separated rooms or floors are reserved for single women or families. The protection of family life for core family members is laid down in the law of the federal provinces. As regards family members who arrived through a Family Reunification scheme and receive Basic Care as asylum seekers, there is no satisfactory solution in practice in case with the holder of the 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 to information provided by 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.
If the asylum application is declared as inadmissible under the Dublin III Regulation, detention may be ordered. In the past, families had often been separated when pre-removal detention was ordered: the adult family members would be detained and less coercive measures would apply to children. However, this practice ceased with the establishment of a special closed facility for families in Vienna (Zinnergasse) in 2011.
There are only a few reception facilities with more than 80 or 100 places, while most of the other larger facilities are run by NGOs in Vienna. Hostels and inns have between 20 and 40 places. As a consequence, single women are not always separated from single men, although there are separate toilets and showers. Vienna also has centres for victims of trafficking and LGBTI persons. Similarly, Salzburg also has a reception centre for single women and single parents, and one for LGBTI persons.
Reception of handicapped and seriously ill persons
Some places in facilities of the state or run by NGOs are reserved for traumatised or ill asylum seekers (“Sonderbetreuungsbedarf”). In the last years, the number of places for asylum seekers with disabilities or other special needs of care increased. There is one special care centres for people in need of special medical care at the federal level:
- The special care centre is located in Graz Andritz and has a maximum capacity of 120 persons;
- the centre in Gallspach with a capacity of 110 persons has been closed beginning of 2019
In addition, where necessary, persons with special needs are accommodated in separate rooms or houses in the Federal Reception Centre in Traiskirchen during the admissibility procedure. Special care centres for 25 persons in a barrier-free building (house 1) are provided in Traiskirchen.
The placement of a person in need of special care in one of the special care centres is determined on a case-by-case basis depending on the individual’s health situation.
The special care centre of Graz Andritz, for example, offers quality medical care for patients in need of both regular or special care, e.g. persons with cancer, cardiovascular diseases, epileptics, diabetics, patients in rehab etc. This is 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.
Centres at provincial level
Special care centres exist in different provinces:
Vorarlberg: has places for persons with need of special treatment in a nursing home and in facilities of NGOs like Kolpinghaus.
Lower Austria: There are some places in an emergency centre and 6 centres for severely traumatised unaccompanied children.
Tyrol: The Basic Care system does not offer special care places. The concerned persons are looked after by a Case & Care team in various accommodation facilities. The most common criteria for support from the Case & Care team are psychiatric, mental and physical conditions or disabilities.
Upper Austria: People who do not need special accommodation but have an increased need for care (e.g. dialysis patients) are housed exclusively in reception facilities of nonprofit organizations. Depending on the need for care, the “regular” daily rate increases up to €23. As of 9 March 2017, there were 252 people with special needs accommodated in Upper Austria. Moreover, in April 2017, a total of 12,500 persons received Basic Care in Upper Austria. More recent information is not available.
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 daily rate of increased care varies in the federal provinces. Organisations providing reception receive a maximum €44 according to the number of hours of care provided per week. The need has to be assessed by a medical report. Caritas Styria has received several asylum-seekers with severe illnesses (cancer, handicap) but does not receive more than the regular daily rate of €19.
 Information provided by the Ministry of Interior, 26 January 2018.
 Information of the Basic care system, unpublished.
 Ministry of Interior, Answer to a parliamentary request, 38/AB XXVII. GP, 19 December 2019, available in German at: https://bit.ly/2w2RTg5. Information about accommodation in different provinces is not available however.
 Oberösterreichischer Landesrechnungshof, June 2017, available in German at: https://bit.ly/2SyZLzZ.
 Ministry of Interior, Answer to a parliamentary request, 38/AB XXVII. GP, 19 December 2019, available in German at: https://bit.ly/2w2RTg5 . Information about accomodation in provinces is not available.
 Art. 7 Tyrolean Basic Care Act (Tiroler Grundversorgungsgesetz).
 Bericht der Volksanwaltschaft an den Nationalrat und an den Bundesrat 2017, March 2018, available in German at: https://bit.ly/2BvhoGz.
 Unpublished survey. These 40 reception centres took care of 924 unaccompanied asylum-seeking children.
Verordnung der Steiermärkischen Landesregierung vom 27 October 2016, mit der das Steiermärkische Grundversorgungsgesetz durchgeführt wird (StGVG-DVO), available in German at: http://bit.ly/2EKGW22.
 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.
 Information provided by the Ministry of Interior, 26 January 2018.
 Regional Court of Audit of Upper Austria: Flüchtlingshilfe – Grundversorgung, June 2017; available in German at: https://bit.ly/2SyZLzZ.