Mariam Hage, Alicia Prager
In front of the Votiv Church (Votivkirche) in the snow-covered city of Vienna, a tent is falling apart. It’s the only sign that reminds us of what is going on inside the church since the middle of December. Without knowing about the refugees’ protest inside the church, no one would assume that refugees are fighting for their rights in there. The doors are closed and only open for the visitors of the holy messes. Since about two months, more than 40 people are living in the cold church. Why? Because they are demonstrating for a better life for asylum seekers in Austria.
It all started, when the refugees walked from the Refugee Camp in Traiskirchen (Lower Austria) to Vienna, which is a distance of about 24 kilometers. On the 24th of November the refugees and their supporters pitched their tents in the Sigmund-Freud-Park, which is right in front of the Votiv Church. They stayed there for six weeks, until they got shut down by the police. Then they took shelter in the church, where they have been ever since.
The Austrian media followed their actions with interest. Especially their health drew a lot of attention, because the people had to resist the cold and were weakened by their hunger strike, which was ended on February the 18th . Voluntary Paramedics and the Caritas are trying to care for their health.
“We want to do something! We can do something!” , said the Pakistani Asylum seeker Khan Adalat in an interview on January 12th. The 47 year old thinks of himself as a political activist and emphases that he cannot continue his life deedless. “Many of us are not older than 20. At that age you want to have fun, embrace life and do not want to spend your days in this dull environment!” He wants to work, but in Austria the asylum seekers are not able to get a work permit. Some of them are waiting for an asylum for over ten years. They cannot decide how to live their life themselves - not even where they want to stay.
On February 14th the Austrian president replied on a letter from a refugees. They were asking for support. However, he refers to the constitution and states that he wants to help but has to stick to the Austrian legal system. That means their demands cannot be realized.
But what do they actually want? Is it outrageous? Decide for yourself. Basic services for all asylum seekers
- Access to the labour market, education and social services
- Acceptance of socio-economic migration motives
- Free choice of habitation and no involuntary deportation
Regarding politics, only the Green Party supports them. Werner-Lobo from the Green Party, calls the hunger strike a desperate cry for help. “In a wealthy country like Austria this should get people thinking.”
For more information visit http://refugeecampvienna.noblogs.org/ . There you can find daily updates about the refugee movement in Vienna in English, German, Spanish, French and Italian.