Patrice Riemens on Sun, 6 Mar 2016 17:55:38 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> Open letter to the government in Vienna from Austrian expatriates in Greece

Original to:

This is the full text of a letter written by prominent émigrés to 
ministers in protest over the country's role in border closures against 

Open letter to the Austrian government

Austrians living and working in Greece, who feel deeply connected with 
this country, appeal to the Austrian government to take a more 
responsible position in dealing with the refugee crisis. Instead of 
putting on blinkers, pretending that by closing the borders the problem 
will go away, the situation has to be tackled head-on at a European 
level. The Austrian government needs to understand that individual, 
national approaches fail to produce results, also because solitary 
advances contradict the basic tenets of the European programme, which is 
meant to serve as the foundation for a new generation.

Despite the temporary ceasefire, the war in Syria continues unabated, 
forcing the frightened civilian population, trapped between the fighting 
fronts, to keep seeking refuge by fleeing their country. While the 
neighbours of Syria bear the brunt of the pressure, the callous reaction 
of the Austrian government, one of the richest countries in the world 
(ranked 11), puts us to shame. Austrian politicians have claimed that 
our country has accepted more refugees than most others. But a glance at 
the facts from Europe's south proves this statement to be fatally wrong, 
misrepresenting the data.

Pushing solutions to the refugee crisis that rely on increasing the 
pressure on Greece is counterproductive, unrealistic and irresponsible. 
The Austrian Minister of the Interior maintains that "that will put an 
end to perilous journeys across the Mediterranean." No, Mrs Minister, it 

Dozens of boats continue to arrive on Greece's shores on a daily basis, 
often carrying over three thousand desperate people a day. The 
unspeakable horror of the war, hopelessness in the adjacent countries 
and the desire to reunite with family members are a strong motivation 
for those who have nothing to lose to risk the journey towards European 
destinations. What could stop them? Coast guards? Warships? Walls? 
Barbed wire fences? None of these measures will have any effect, unless 
the acts of war are put to an end. Otherwise, traumatised, terrorised 
people will continue to do anything to escape their misery.

The Europeans, who cannot see eye to eye among each other and do not 
even seem to share the most basic values, are busying themselves 
reinforcing their ominous fortress. As much as they try, it is not going 
to prevent war refugees from attempting to save their lives. Many more 
will come, hoping to make it somehow, at all cost, as hope dies last. 
Europe has no choice but to face the catastrophic situation in the 
war-torn countries of the near and Middle East responsibly and make 
every effort to help these people rebuild their lives. This will require 
foresight, wisdom and the will to convince the doubters (and the 
constituencies). Otherwise, we will be faced with a generation growing 
up in war-torn nations in who cannot but feel deepest frustration and 
animosity towards Europe and its "values".

It seems that Greece, often disrespectfully called the "soft belly" of 
Europe, was assigned the role of henchman, carrying out European 
barbed-wire politics. Is this the underlying objective of Austria's 
advances? Greece, since the beginning of the economic crisis in 2010, 
has been publicly denied the capability to deal with her own 
administration. Now the Greek state is supposed to master a situation 
that would far surpass what Austrian authorities are able to shoulder. 
Greek volunteers, in cooperation with Greek NGOs and international 
organisations, are doing their best to save refugees' lives, to offer 
medical care, feed and console the desperate. How, we may ask, can a 
country that is itself on its knees, economically as well as socially, 
handle this situation? During the year 2015, 856,000 people arrived on 
Greece's coast. At the time of writing, this number has already reached 
over 200,000, with 410 people having drowned or been reported missing. 
What are the Greeks, impoverished and miserable, supposed to do?

Half of the capacity of Greek passenger ships between the islands of 
Lesbos, Kos, Chios and Leros has been assigned to transport refugees to 
the mainland, thus drastically reducing the capacity for tourists. 
Islands that almost exclusively subsist on the tourism industry expect a 
reduction of income during 2016 of 80%.

Also, we wonder just how the recent Refugee Conference in Vienna could 
have been held without inviting representatives of the country that is 
most affected. Was this punishment for Greece's apparent incapability of 
securing her maritime borders, for her policy of waving refugees 
through, for her lack of cooperation? Whatever intent the conference 
had, Greece should have been at the table, at least in order to make her 
voice heard and present the facts on the ground. The Austrian minister 
of the interior, Mrs Mikl-Leitner, expressed the government's opinion 
that it was perfectly legitimate to apply pressure at national and 
regional levels, disregarding repercussions at the European level. Who, 
we may ask, is allowed to apply such pressure? Countries that 
heavy-handedly and irresponsibly introduce neo-nationalist methods, in 
blatant disregard of lawfully binding responsibilities enshrined in the 
European charter?

If Austria wishes to pursue unilaterally a "complete barrage against 
refugees", our little country will be remembered as the trigger of a 
humanitarian catastrophe. The government of Austria justifies its 
reaction by admitting to being incapable of organising and administering 
a larger influx of refugees. Compared to Greece's vast maritime border, 
Austria's borders are very simple to manage indeed. How is Greece 
supposed to keep refugees at bay, when Austria's sole reaction has been 
to erect walls and barbed wire fences? While it is easy for a landlocked 
nation like Austria to barrage herself behind walls, such a politics of 
avoidance is impossible for a country comprising over 2,000 islands and 
with a coastline of almost 14,000km (ranked 13 worldwide). In view of 
her well-documented chronic structural weakness, Greece and her economy 
require massive help to get on their feet, amid the worst refugee crisis 
since world war two. We are deeply embarrassed by the confused, 
shortsighted "vision" that the Austrian government hysterically chose to 
impose on the western Balkans (her former "crown colonies"?). Is the 
misery of an ever increasing segment of the Greek population not worth 
being taken into account as well?

We appeal to the Austrian government to act reasonably, use common sense 
judgment and apply the principles of human rights. Shortsighted 
neo-nationalism should have no place in Europe of the 21st century. This 
is the least we owe to our historic past.

Mag Regina Wiesinger (Teacher, German School of Athens), Marion Hoffmann 
(former UNHCR official) and Winfried Lechner, PhD (Formal linguist, 
National and Kapodistrian University of Athens)

Signed by

Martin Scharnhorst (Director)
Dr jur Ulrike Merlin
Margarita Vamia
Verena Vogiatzoglou
Elisabeth Papadopulos
Hilde Gruber
Dr Marianne Danner (Teacher, German School of Athens)
Dr Christos Vasdaris (Alumni University of Vienna, Archaeologist, 
Teacher, German School of Athens)
Mag Christine Pediaditis (Teacher, German School of Athens)
Dr jur Elfriede Damalas, Athens
Mag Helena Zabakas (Research Center "Dimokritos", Athens)
Christine Zabakas
Mag Phil Claudia Stamou (Archaeologist)
Margareta Manola (Teacher, retired)
Iris Galetakis
Manuela Galetakis
Helga Rogalas
Eleanna Rogalas
Konstantin Rogalas
Gundi Frangouli

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