Asylum expert certain:

Asylum card: “It mainly benefits the operator”

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05.02.2024 06:00

The plans to introduce a payment card for refugees are nothing new - but they are more topical than ever. Who is driving the plans, what political alliances there could be and what asylum expert Lukas Gahleitner-Gertz has to say about the system.

It is an early summer evening on May 30, 2017 in Moscow. The Austrian Embassy hosted a reception in honor of the then Minister of the Interior Wolfgang Sobotka - and invited prominent guests. Sitting at the table was Jan Marsalek, then CFO of Wirecard, now one of the most wanted men in the world. A picture of Sobotka and Marsalek together would later become public. It is not known whether the two discussed Wirecard's planned "Refugee Card", a kind of ATM card for refugees receiving basic services, that evening. Seven years later, this is the topic of discussion again. And once again, a former high black man from Lower Austria is sitting at the table during the planning games.

Former ÖVP Vice-Chancellor Michael Spindelegger is Director General of the Vienna-based Center for Migration Policy Development. This is apparently where a payment card model was developed that guarantees the switch from cash benefits to benefits in kind for asylum seekers in basic care and could soon be applied in Bavaria. The Ministry of the Interior will also be taking a close look at this.

Meeting with the federal states planned
Minister Gerhard Karner confirmed that his party colleague is one of the contacts for the possible red-white-red model. At a meeting in June, he wants to discuss the next steps regarding the introduction of such a card with the federal states. Either way, the contract would first have to be put out to tender. According to the minister, the aim is to find a cost-effective and efficient solution.

Expert criticizes
Lukas Gahleitner-Gertz, one of Austria's best-known asylum experts, doubts that such a solution is even possible. "We are discussing whether a separate payment system should be introduced for this group of less than 4,000 asylum seekers, who have to pay for food, travel tickets and medication from 210 euros a month. A separate system would result in massive additional costs, which would mainly benefit the operator of the payment card system," he told the newspaper "Krone".

Mikl-Leitner detects positive SPÖ signals
At a joint meeting with Interior Minister Gerhard Karner (both ÖVP) in St. Pölten on Friday, Lower Austria's Governor Johanna Mikl-Leitner explained once again why she believes the switch from cash to non-cash payments makes sense. If cash payments were restricted, there would be significantly fewer incentives for illegal migration and also fewer opportunities to transfer state support to the respective countries of origin, explained the Governor.

However, she no longer only sees support for this from the FPÖ, with whom she even put the changeover in writing in the government program, but also from the SPÖ. "This is a factual issue, a question of common sense. In Germany, there is now agreement across party lines. I think we can still achieve this here too. I have also heard many positive signals from the SPÖ," she told the "Krone" newspaper.

SPÖ warns against "Marsalek model"
Who exactly the "positive signals" are coming from is not known. In any case, Hans Peter Doskozil was critical of the model. "If the Marsalek model had been implemented, the damage for the Republic would probably have been enormous if the cards had stopped working from one day to the next after insolvency," says a red strategist, adding that Spindelegger might have been involved: "A model from which only party friends benefit in the end should certainly not emerge.

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