From file: refugees arriving at Vienna central station from Hungary, 2015
From file: refugees arriving at Vienna central station from Hungary, 2015

European countries are putting in place measures to cut down financial aid to newcomers, with Austria and Switzerland being the most recent examples. Will Germany follow next?

Three states in Austria have reduced aid to newcomers, and similar plans have been voted in some Swiss cantons. These actions have raised questions about whether Germany will take similar actions in this regard; especially after the right-wing Alternative for Germany party was able to enter the parliament.

The states of Lower Austria, Burgenland and Upper Austria have decided to reduce aid to newcomers, even after being granted asylum, to around 570 Euros a month. It was also decided that the maximum financial aid of a family was 1500 Euros. Many asylum seekers from the three states therefore chose to move to other places in the country, especially to the capital, Vienna.

Reduction of aid by a third

In Switzerland, more than two-thirds of voters in the canton of Zurich last month supported a plan aimed at significantly reducing the social benefits granted by the canton to refugees with temporary residence (F). Instead of the current 900 francs, they will receive only 300 francs ($ 308).

In Germany, aid to asylum seekers sometimes varies from one German state to another. In some states, the asylum seeker receives coupons or a monthly grant of € 135 for a single, € 122 for married couples and between €76 and €83 for children who live with their parents. Once the asylum seeker moves from the temporary residence, the state pays the rent and the necessary household necessities. In addition, the asylum seeker receives cash for food and drink.

The reasons are political

Dr. Najih al-Obaidi, an economic adviser and expert on the integration of refugees, believes that Germany will take similar measures to Austria and Switzerland in reducing aid to asylum seekers, and says to Infomigrants that the reasons for these actions are political in the first place. “The entry of the Alternative Party in parliament will raise this issue strongly, and the conservative parties (the Christian Democratic Union and the Christian Social Union) may do that before, so that the alternative party will not be allowed to invest this card to win more votes.”

In Austria, Sebastian Kurtz, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Integration, whose party leads the polls, supports reducing the aid nationwide, but the UN Refugee Agency UNHCR stated that the reduction of aid is against international and European laws, and denounced the "debate on xenophobia" in Austria's political circles.

Immigration remains the dominant political issue ahead of Austrian parliamentary elections scheduled for October 15, and in last year's presidential election, the right-wing Populist Party candidate was almost to win the presidential election.

Ending the "attractiveness of aid"

Although the 1951 Geneva Convention affirmed that refugee-hosting countries should provide them the same care as their citizens in regards with public assistance, Upper Austria described the reductions as a means of addressing the problem of the "attractiveness of subsidies" to refugees.

The right-wing Swiss People's Party, which stands behind the aid reduction initiative in Zurich, justifies the new measures that subsidies received by people with temporary residency are nothing but "false incentives to stay" in the country. The move was opposed by the Greens, the Socialist Party and the Christian Democratic Party, who considered this to jeopardize the efforts to integrate those refugees.

German Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière has said more than once that the reason for the influx of refugees into Germany is partly due to the great advantages enjoyed by refugees in the country, and that there are now efforts to end the huge differences between the assistance provided by European countries to asylum seekers.

Reducing aid will not limit immigration

Al-Obaidi said that the reduction of aid may affect the reduction of the number of "economic refugees" who resort to Western European countries for economic reasons, especially those from Eastern European countries, but it will not stop the wave of migrants from poor African countries. "These solutions will not help to stop the wave of immigrants from countries suffering from hunger and poverty, and it is better for European countries to end the causes of migration from these countries by contributing to solve their problems through investment and entrepreneurship,” he said.

Al-Obaidi confirmed that "There is no magic solution to illegal immigration, but European countries can reduce the proportion of ‘economic refugees’ by opening the door of legal immigration, similar to immigration policy in Canada and Australia”.


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