We ourselves, the refugees, make the demonstration, and we are the ones who want it. It is our fight. We thank everybody for their help, but we don’t allow anybody to use us. This is a self-organized struggle of and by refugees, one that needs your support, your presence on the street on Saturday.”
—From a speech by refugee Salaheddine Najah during a protest song contest at the Rabenhof Theatre, Vienna, February 12, 2013
Since November 2012, refugees have been protesting in Austria. At the center of this protest lies the formation of the Refugee Protest Camp in Vienna, which started with a ten-hour march of approximately a hundred refugees and their supporters. The march, which took place on November 24, 2012, started at the refugee reception center in Traiskirchen and ended at the Vienna city center—a distance of around twenty kilometers. The march resulted in the erection of the Refugee Protest Camp, which included tents, a kitchen, and activities in Sigmund Freud Park, in front of the Votive Church in the center of Vienna. This camp was cleared by police on December 28, 2012. After negotiating with personnel from the Votive Church, the refugees entered the church itself. They decided to “camp” in the freezing cold church building (while at the same time being monitored and controlled by Caritas, a Catholic Church charity relief organization). As nothing was offered to them by that point—no answer from the authorities regarding their demands—a group of refugees went on a hunger strike.
The Refugee Protest Camp in Vienna was supported by multiple NGOs and many activists and students, including a number from the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna. The hunger strike ended after a month (in January 2013) and the archbishop himself promised the refugees that they could remain in the church and would not be expelled by police.
On February 1, 2013, after a break of ten days, the refugees in the Votive Church announced the resumption of their hunger strike, since the government had made no effort to meet their demands to find a solution regarding their legal status. On February 5, one of the hunger strikers was deported to Hungary. Presumably, he will be expelled from the European Union, or worse, deported back to Pakistan. On February 16, around 2,500 people in Vienna and other EU cities marched in solidarity with the refugees, a day after the refugees decided to stop their hunger strike for a second time in order to consider their next move. In the beginning of March 2013, the protesting refugees agreed to move the Refugee Protest Camp Vienna into a former monastery that was offered to them by the Austrian cardinal Schönborn. In the monastery they are offered legal counsel and legal representation—a “safe space” for continuing their struggle to change the asylum system.
Read the full article here.