Georg Röggla: Refugees and civil society

georg_rogglaThe migration crisis has reached Central Europe.

About 10 000 migrants arrived in Vienna within a few hours on Saturday, most of them on their way to Germany.

The situation is dramatic: Four children, including a baby girl, were among 71 migrants found suffocated in a truck on a highway just outside Vienna last week.

Amnesty International presented a report about the refugee reception centre in Traiskirchen near Vienna. Severe overcrowding has resulted in over 2,000 people having to sleep in the open on the ground for weeks. This report highlights that access to sanitary and medical care is inadequate. There is too little supervision for unaccompanied minors. Parents risk being split up from their children. The administration is chaotic. There are not enough interpreters, and not enough staff to keep people informed. A woman without a bed in the camp gave birth to a child in an ambulance in the courtyard.

European and local politicians were helpless in the management of the migration crisis. They highlighted the dangers faced by migrants in the hands of traffickers, but did far too little to help people.

And then suddenly something absolutely great happened. Civil society went into action. About 20 000 people took to the streets of Vienna to demonstrate against the ill-treatment of refugees. Hundreds of Austrians welcomed refugees at the Hungarian border and supplied the people with food and water. The staff from Austria’s national rail company did what they could to make life easier for migrants.

It is reassuring that civil society can help in situations of political failure.

I acknowledge that some politicians have noticed that Europe is facing a situation that’s unworthy of Europe.

Georg Röggla is an associate editor with The BMJ.