Socialist Worker

The Austrian government is putting up fences while children freeze

Anger is growing at the Austria’s “razor wire minister” as winter deepens the plight of refugees, reports David Albrich

Issue No. 2478

Austria became the latest European country to say it would build a fence along part of its border last week.

At the same time children in the border town of Spielfeld sleep in cardboard boxes and on bare soil with temperatures around freezing. Refugees had to burn extra clothes and sheets to keep warm at night.

The government is expecting up to 14,000 refugees to come to Austria daily from Slovenia to the south, and is worried that Germany could close its border to the north.

Two months ago refugees and their supporters tore down the walls and forced the governments to open their borders.

Then Austrian chancellor Werner Faymann criticised Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban for using razor wires against refugees. He said, “To think that you can solve something with a fence, I believe this is wrong.”

He even compared the deportation of refugees into Hungarian camps with the deportation of Jews and others to concentration camps in the Holocaust. Now comes a complete U-turn.

Interior minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner has called for a “Fortress Europe” to be built, saying this also means raising fences. The government wants to hire 2,000 more cops to secure the border.

People are fed up with the complete inability of the government to deal with the refugee influx. Some 73 percent of people think the government cannot work out any plan for the refugees.

This anger is partly reflected in massive gains for the fascist Freedom Party (FPO). It got 31 percent in the recent local elections in the capital Vienna.

FPO leader Heinz-Christian Strache wants to build a fence all around Austria. FPO politicians want to deport refugees with military aircraft and say refugees should stay in Muslim countries like Turkey to “live with their fellow believers”.

Stations 

On the other hand, volunteers are replacing the government in caring for refugees, welcoming them at the borders and train stations.

Car convoys with relief aid such as food, water, clothes and medicine are seen on a daily basis at the borders. They are furious at the government’s hypocrisy.

Anti-racist activist Olga said, “The government can’t seem to provide decent accommodation for people who have fled for their lives, but it can raise funds for building fences and hiring police officers.”

The planned fence at the concerned section of the border will waste up to £215 million. This is about as much as the government is spending on 50,000 refugees waiting for asylum. Fencing off the whole border to Slovenia would cost £1.1 billion.

Since the huge pro-refugee protests on 3 October—with 70,000 people taking to the streets and 150,000 joining a solidarity concert—the

pro-refugee movement is growing stronger.

In Spielfeld police were forced several times to remove barricades to relieve pressure, allowing hundreds of people to spill into the surrounding area. In the nearby city of Graz, refugees and supporters marched for swifter asylum proceedings and faster family reunions.

The movement demands the resignation “razor-wire minister” Mikl-Leitner. On Saturday of next week activists aim to lay siege to her ministry, and are calling for international protests for open borders.

David Albrich is a leading member of the Socialist Workers’ Party’s sister organisation Neue Linkswende and coordinator of the Platform for a humane asylum policy

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