Monday was a hard day for Vienna. The country felt the stain and shame of discovering 71 dead in a fridge truck, including four children, next to a highway. These were refugees, fleeing war only to be asphyxiated to death, in Europe of all continents. Appalled, 20,000 Viennese took to the streets to protest against asylum policy.
But, they did more than protesting.
The very same day 3,650 Syrian refugees were leaving Budapest, following what amounted to little less than a riot, as the authorities were trying to stop them from departing whilst they had paid for tickets. At the Westbahnhof station in Austria, they were welcomed by citizens extending water and food. Some stayed; others continued their journey to Munich, Bavaria.
Viennese authorities report being flooded with citizens’ offers for money and time in support of asylum seekers. An online citizen’s solidarity platform keeps enlisting members, including over 100 offers for rooms in private houses, or time – “whatever is needed” – or money, clothes, and food. The city is bursting with good will.
On Tuesday evening the Archdiocese of Vienna opened its perishes across the nation to the asylum seekers in need. Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, said Church facilities would be open for the next few weeks. Urging the government to speed up the asylum processing process, he challenged other parishes to follow Vienna’s example.
Indeed, the Church has already received migrants across Austria in cooperation with Caritas. More space is made available by the day.
Shameful demonstrations seen in other parts of Europe have seized in Austria. Asylum seekers are being moved from schools to more appropriate shelters in Upper Austria and Salzburg.
As for those refugees that moved to Bavaria, they were not greeted by the shameful demonstrations of the far right. On Wednesday morning, German authorities were asking the public to stop bringing donations for refugees, as the city could not handle the flood of food, toys, and clothes brought in spontaneously by citizens. Instead they asked for time and help to receiving 590 refugees at the train station. Soon they wished they didn’t, as the public stormed the Hauptbahnhof station in Munich with everything they could carry.
The chairman of the Social Democratic Party of Austria (SPÖ) said that the accommodation of asylum seekers was the most important question in Europe today, naming and shaming countries that have refused to take their quota of refugees, namely Great Britain, Poland, and the Czech Republic, whilst condemned the Hungarian fence approach to crisis management.
To the contrary, the Chairman of the right-wing Freedom Party (FPÖ) Heinz-Christian Strache said that fences were “of course necessary” for tackling smugglers.