Supporting refugees in Austria with education & employment opportunities

Giving By Emily Larson May 9, 2018

According to government data, in the three years since the European refugee crisis began in the summer of 2015, more than 150,000 refugees have relocated to Austria, one of the main gateways to the European Union, and more than 70% of these refugees now live in Vienna, where most opportunities for education and work are located. In a city with a population of less than two million people, one in 15 is now a refugee.

To help support the integration of refugees into their new community, the Western Union Foundation worked with the Vienna office of the Western Union Company to provide a USD $100,000 grant to SEED, an initiative launched in cooperation with the Austrian Ministry of Education and the Teach for Austria Alumni organization, which supports underage and young adult refugees with education and employment opportunities. The funding has helped SEED provide small grants to teachers, NGOs and others, whose project ideas could lead to a better life for refugees and migrants in Vienna.

In 2017, 20 projects were selected by SEED to receive funding, including a radio station for refugees; self-teaching school material for Arabic, Farsi/Dari, Somali and Kurdish native speakers; an acting school where refugee children learn how to tell their stories in German; organized visits of potential employers to understand local requirements and skills; and STEM projects in schools.  These initiatives reached more than 5,000 children and young adults throughout Vienna.

refugees{code}, supported by AMS Austria (Austrian labor office), which offers programming and software development courses to refugees, began as a SEED project. The NGO’s founder, Stefan Steinberger, saw an opportunity to train young refugees in Vienna – who like their counterparts in other parts of the world had an aptitude for technology – to fill the high number of vacancies in the Austrian IT industry. The refugees did not need to speak German to learn programming, so they could be earning money while learning the language of their host country.

With SEED funding and the support of the Technical University of Vienna, the refugees{code} school of programming was created, which developed a nine-month full-time program consisting of six months of learning coding languages and three months for a professional internship. According to refugees{code},  in 2017, 28 refugees graduated from the program, and this past February, another cohort with 21 new participants began.

refugees{code} school of programming has already received two national and two international recognitions in less than a year and is now a finalist in the Ideas for Europe competition.

The Western Union company in Vienna, was one of the first private sector companies to step in as the refugee crisis unfolded. In cooperation with the charity organization Caritas, Western Union ensured housing for refugees from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and countries in Africa. Employees in the Western Union Vienna office also offered German courses for more than 20 refugees, and they mentored more than ten highly skilled people who had left secure jobs when they fled their countries. For five of these people, an internship in the Western Union office in Vienna was the first step into the Austrian labor market. In addition, Western Union employees volunteer with Caritas’s organized excursions and fun events to welcome groups of refugees to their new city.

The Western Union Foundation is a separate charitable corporation that is tax-exempt under §501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, contributions to which are tax-deductible for US income tax purposes. The Foundation is supported by the Western Union Company, its employees, Agents, and business partners, working to support education and disaster relief efforts as pathways toward a better future.