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Helping young refugees stuck between countries

Young people from the BIWAK centre in Austria
Young people from the BIWAK centre in Austria

Since November 2004, SOS Children have been meeting the needs of unaccompanied young refugees in Austria. From countries around the world and with limited legal rights, at the flat-sharing community BIWAK, SOS social workers ensure that young people stay safe and can get back on their feet.

The youth community is located in the town of Hall in Tirol, in the district of Tyrol in Western Austria. It offers a safe home for young people aged from 14-18, who arrive alone as refugees. The young people currently living at BIWAK come from countries including Georgia, Moldova, Vietnam, Azerbaijan, Nigeria, and Angola.

Those who live at the centre are often fleeing war and oppression, or leave their home country due to poverty and a lack of opportunities. Sometimes, their parents have sent them away so that they can earn money to support their families back home. They arrive completely alone, to a drastically different culture and often speak a different language. Applications for asylum often take a long time to process, and the young people are in limbo during this time, unable to work to afford housing and food, and prevented from accessing social services. As a result, they often struggle to cope and may end up living on the streets, or turning to dangerous and illegal activities in order to survive.BIWAK refugee centre in Austria

At the SOS Children BIWAK centre, young refugees are offered shelter, regardless of their status in the asylum process, or their prospects for staying in Austria. Staff at the centre include a team of social workers, psychologists and teachers, who offer tailored care for up to 15 homeless youths. The young people are made to feel at home again, to establish a daily routine, and are given support to enable them to integrate into the local culture. The team also help the young people to access legal representation to ensure that their cases are heard quickly and fairly. 

As Austrian law prevents refugees from working whilst they wait their applications to be processed, the staff at the BIWAK centre provide educational programmes for the young people, to teach them valuable language and employment skills. They also help them to find work-experience placements, for instance at charitable organisations, which is permitted by law.

Their traumatic experiences in their country of origin, and the struggle to cope in a new country with a very different culture can have a devastating effect. The psychological support on offer helps them to come to come to terms with their difficult experiences and move forward with their lives. BIWAK Director Lorenz Kerer says that this support helps them to feel at home: “Eventually, the young people want to settle down and live here."

SOS Children are committed to helping children and young people from difficult backgrounds to stay safe and build positive futures. Find out more about our work in communities around the world.