The tents are up again
As a sign of solidarity, people from all over Austria camped for the refugees in Moria, Kara Tepe and Lipa over the weekend.
Article by Magdalena Willert
From 12 pm the tents are being set up on the Heldenplatz. The camp is placed in the middle of the mighty buildings of the first district. The pegs can be easily drilled into the drizzle-softened soil. It is just 4 degrees outside. The reason for the intensified protest measures is the fatal situation for years in the refugee camps on the Greek island of Lesbos and the Balkan route: “Another weekend for Moria, Kara Tepe and Lipa”.
The fire at Camp Moria in September last year have made 12,600 people homeless. A large part of it was brought to a “provisional” tent camp – also in Lesbos – near the Kara Tepe refugee camp. The living conditions there are even worse than the already catastrophic conditions in Moria. The situation in Bosnia is similarly disastrous. A fire also started in Camp Lipa and many refugees are stuck in abandoned buildings that are only used unofficially as camps.
The organizations SOS Balkanroute, Freebirds, Seebrücke Wien, the platform for human asylum policy and Volkshilfe are represented in the symbolic camp on the Heldenplatz. The people who demand the government to rethink its actions are becoming more and more active. They demand the evacuation of inhumane refugee camps, a fair refugee policy and actions from Austria and the EU.
“It is unbelievable that we still have camps in which people with no prospect of improvement are deported and exposed to all conditions up to a pandemic danger”, Georg Hollinetz has already experienced some border camps through operations with the organization Weitblick. He wants to show empathy for refugees in these situations, when he also sets up his tent in Vienna in the rain.
The federal states have already announced that they can and want to receive refugees. There is enough space, this is also a message from the President Van der Bellen. Mayor Ludwig and Vice-Mayor Wiederkehr could have received 100 refugee children in Vienna last December. But the federal government is resistant. Interior Minister Nehammer thinks Austria has already done enough. He doesn’t want to send “wrong signals”.
Not far from this place where the above described decision was taken, the number of participants in the protest action is growing despite the constant drizzle. The dense program of the protest continues. One of the guest speakers is Katharina Simunic. With SOS Balkanroute she was in the places that refugees have to work their way through after the transition to the mainland.
“What am I supposed to say to a pregnant woman from Afghanistan whose ankle was broken so that she can not go further?” With the first screening of her documentary film, she makes the situation at the borders tangible with terrifying images: accommodations without water or electricity. Injured or sick people who are deprived of medical help, warm shelter and enough food. And a police force that doesn’t hesitate to use their batons. Broken bones and deep wounds are not uncommon.
Kara Tepe, the “new” Moria, does not see any improvement in the situation either. It got worse. Ärzte ohne Grenzen reports rat bites, the spread of scabies, bloated skin on residents who cannot protect themselves from the wet for days and mental illnesses such as PTSD, depression and suicides.
The young activist closes her speech with the words “Nobody is free, till we all are free”.
Meanwhile, more and more grave candles and lanterns are being lighten up: A sea of red lights of solidarity illuminates the square in front of the Hofburg. Fire bowls provide warmth and bring Protestants together – with a mask of course, everyone follows strict safety measurements. One of the activists is Sonja Kinigadner from the you-are-welcome association, who was already active in the movement of 1968. She thinks it’s great that actionism is still alive. The 68-year-old also stayed here today to campaign for an asylum application under humane conditions: “I support the Geneva Refugee Convention and want it to be obeyed”. She also helped with the refugee movement in camps during the Bosnian war in the 90s and compares the political situation then and now: “At that time there was no question that you take in refugees, just because you need to do what you need to.”
The last point on the program is the live connection of the protest camps in the other eight federal states. St. Pölten and Schwechat are the newcomers this week. Vienna is protesting for the third time and registered 30 tents this weekend. The first time people camped in snow and minus four degrees. “That was really terrible. I didn’t really sleep,” says Tereza Hossa, who has taken over the moderation. The campaign started on the fourth weekend of Advent in Innsbruck. The movement came to Vienna with the Tyrolean, among others. The weather doesn’t make a difference for them: “When it’s sunny and fine, they all come to camp. But it’s also about a symbolism. Therefore, the more gruesome it is, the better.”
The Innsbruckers have already announced that they will camp “another weekend” until the people in Lesbos are evacuated. “Of course you want actionism to achieve something straight away, but you have to think in very small steps in order not to be disappointed,” said Hossa.
The evening ends with violin, guitar and melodica in the glow of the fire bowl and lighting of the Hofburg. The air in the tent is icy and the worn clothes got damp. But the people here at Heldenplatz are safe in their rainproof tents, have enough space and have been provided with warm food and drinks. The tents are dismantled the next day. Everyone goes home to their heated apartments, under warm showers, into comfortable beds. The camps on Lesbos and Lipa remain as they are.
What can you do?
1.Stay tuned on Facebook for the next protest camp: Grab your tent and sleeping bag and join the event.
2. If staying overnight is not down your alley, you are just as welcome as a guest. The whole program can also be experienced in this way.
3. The petition against the criminalisation of sea rescue only requires 100 signatures. Click here for the online form.
4. It can be donated to organisations either at the camp or by bank transfer. Incidentally, you can also find out more on site and see where the donations are going.
Photos Magdalena Willert