Interior Minister Gerhard Karner (ÖVP) and asylum representatives from Austria’s nine federal states came to a unanimous decision on Wednesday, September 20th, endorsing the proposal to mandate community service for asylum seekers dependent on the state for their social welfare.
The move, which has been discussed several times over the years, will oblige those individuals undergoing the asylum process to carry out service for the community. Under the agreement, those who fail to meet the community service requirements will have their basic social services rescinded, the Austrian news outlet Exxpress reports.
“People also have an obligation to the country that takes them in,” Upper Austria’s asylum representative Wolfgang Hattmannsdorfer (ÖVP), said following the agreement, adding that contributions to community initiatives will contribute to asylum seekers’ integration but will help them gain acceptance in local communities.
Vorarlberg state councilor Christian Gantner welcomed the compulsory charitable work initiative and echoed Hattmannsdorfer’s remark, saying that it will provide asylum seekers with a regular daily routine and contact with locals. This will make it easier for the new arrivals to learn the German language, he added.
Presently, in the western state of Vorarlberg, there are over 3,200 people receiving basic social services from the state, nearly half of whom are Ukrainian refugees.
The decision, expectedly, has been met with criticism by left-liberals, namely party leaders from the Greens and NEOS, and ‘experts’ from academia.
“Before you talk about compulsory work for asylum seekers, the hurdles for those who want to work must be reduced,” Vienna’s Deputy Mayor Christoph Wiederkehr (NEOS) insisted, adding that asylum seekers are “currently not allowed to work for three months and then need a bureaucratic employment permit.”
The Greens in Upper Austria went even further, with Ines Vukajlović, the party’s integration spokeswoman, calling the obligation to work “really and factually more than questionable.”
“To combine a work obligation with basic care—literally the basic care of people—is reprehensible,” she said.
Judith Kohlenberger, an academic and migration researcher, agreed that work has an “integrative effect,” but claimed that ‘coercion’ is not the right instrument in this case.
The ruling center-right Austrian People’s Party’s move to require new arrivals dependent on state welfare to carry out community service quite likely comes, at least in part, in response to its drop in the polls and due to its main rival, the FPÖ’s, meteoric rise.
The latest polls have revealed that nearly one-third (32%) of Austrians support the FPÖ, while support for the ruling ÖVP now sits at just 24%, as The European Conservative previously reported. By taking a harder line on immigration, the ÖVP is surely hoping to win back some of its voters who’ve flocked to the right-wing, anti-mass migration FPÖ before the national elections are held next year.