Autumn turns to a winter that few of Europe’s beleaguered asylum seekers have ever experienced. An emergency physician gives a front-line account from Vienna.
Vienna is the city where East meets West, a city where spies have secret rendezvous in coffee houses. It is a city of intrigue, romance and fine music. The Westbahnhof (the western train station) has become a staging site for asylum seekers. In the small town of Nickelsdorf at the east Austrian border, 4,000 to 10,000 refugees enter daily from Hungary. In the Salzburg Banhof near the western border, the underground parking garage has been turned into a transient camp, housing three thousand refugees daily awaiting trains to Germany. Summer has given way to Autumn, and the bloom is off the rose.
Despite the EU taking swift action on behalf of the asylum seekers, frustration is growing amongst them. Old prejudices between Afghans and Syrians have led to brawls in refugee camps in Hamburg. Some 370 Albanians and Pakistanis clashed in a shelter in the German region of Hessen after a dispute over distribution of food. German nationals burned a Sport Hall in Wertheim that was being prepared to receive more refugees. A small village in Bavaria that had a hundred people, mostly retired, has seen its population swell by a thousand refugees, that are now sheltered in an old military Kaserne (base). As a result, German authorities are slowly applying the brakes to refugees entering from Austria.
To put things in perspective, Austria has a population of about nine million, similar to New York City. Germany has a population of about 81 million, and in this year alone six hundred thousand refugees have arrived from Africa and the Middle East. The inevitable build up along the border has slowly increased tempers. Meanwhile ‘Gut menschen’ (do-gooder Church volunteers) are performing charitable deeds, everything from distributing backpacks with socks and coats to organizing soccer games. The weather is beautiful when it is not raining or cold.
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