Against the background of the Vienna elections, Austrian Chancellor Kurz does not want to risk losing votes by accepting refugees from Lesbos. Therefore he continues to rely on right-wing populist policies.
The situation for the refugees in Greece’s largest refugee camp Moria on the island of Lesbos is worsening day by day. In the old camp with a capacity of about 3,000 people, more than 12,500 refugees recently stayed there – most of them in self-built huts and tents. Even before the Corona pandemic, medical care there was inadequate. Even at the beginning of the global pandemic, the doctors working on site warned that in the event of a corona outbreak in the camp, the situation would be difficult to keep under control. To counteract this, a curfew was even introduced in the refugee camps from March 21 to July 19, so that the camps could only be left during the day and in small groups of less than ten people.
Due to the difficult conditions in the refugee camp, those affected were more susceptible to infections. On September 2, Greece announced its first case of coronavirus in Moria. After a few days 35 corona cases were detected on the island. The fire in the refugee camp Moria was the last drop that broke the camel’s back! The refugees from the burned down camp refused to go to the new temporary tent camp. They demonstrated and demanded a transfer to other EU countries – sometimes with the use of tear gas by the police.
EU countries could not ignore the escalation
This uprising was a challenge for the EU countries, which would have continued to ignore the refugee problem in Lesbos if there had been no escalation. In a first step, countries such as Germany, France, Luxembourg, Slovenia, Croatia, Portugal, Belgium, the Netherlands and Switzerland have declared their participation in the redistribution of 400 unaccompanied minor refugees. 150 of them are to go to Germany. After further talks, the CDU and SPD agreed on 1553 refugees who are now to be resettled by Greece. The first refugees are expected in September.
Austria takes a contrary position
The Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz had a clear position from the beginning regarding the reception of refugees from Lesbos: Austria would not accept refugees from Lesbos and would not follow the German path. Kurz explained that it was important to first integrate those who were already in Austria rather than constantly accept new ones: “If we give in to this pressure now, we risk making the same mistakes as in 2015.
ÖVP does not want to lose votes
If one did not stand before the Vienna state and district representative elections, which will take place on October 11, one would try to interpret Mr. Kurz’ statements possibly differently. But shortly before the elections, the thought arises that the Chancellor would like to continue his previous election policy – without taking any risks. Possibly he would like to use his statements regarding a new refugee crisis to steer the election policy even more in the desired direction in order to win the votes of the FPÖ: In September 2019, due to the “Ibiza affair” surrounding former FPÖ leader and Vice Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache, early national elections were held in Austria, from which the ÖVP also profited greatly. While the ÖVP was once again the first party with 38.35 percent (+6.88%) of the vote, the coalition partner FPÖ suffered severe election losses, reaching only 17.25 percent (-8.72). At the state level, the ÖVP was the strongest party – except in Vienna. In Vienna, the Social Democrats lost 5.6 percent, but remained the strongest party with 28.9 percent of the vote, while the ÖVP reached 24.1 percent.
Elections or people?
While the left-wing parties will also compete for the votes of candidates with a migration background in the Vienna state and district elections, the ÖVP leader clearly wants to compete again for votes from the FPÖ. On the one hand he achieves this by negative statements in connection with the Turkish minority or Turkey, on the other hand this is now to be achieved by rejecting the resettlement of refugees to Austria, i.e. by the aforementioned “sovereign” decision and refugee policy of Austria. In this election campaign, Chancellor Kurz does not shy away from moving the extreme right into the mainstream and focusing on right-wing populist immigration, refugee and integration policies in order to weaken the FPÖ.
If Mr. Kurz wants to continue to consolidate his votes through his party’s shift to the right, he is on the right track. But if Kurz, despite the devastating situation in Greece, “cannot reconcile it with his conscience” to take in homeless children from Lesbos, then this shows that Austria is unfortunately not on a humane path!
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