Traiskirchen, a small town some 20 kilometers south of the Austrian capital Vienna, is blessed with chocolate-box scenery of luscious green vineyards and pretty villages that attract tourists from all over the world.
But this bucolic landscape is changing. As the wave of migrants coming to Austria from the Balkans grows bigger, the Traiskirchen refugee camp where they are housed is changing the picture-perfect landscape.
According to one Austrian diplomat, some 80,000 people are expected to seek asylum in Austria this year, more than double last year’s 30,000. Most are brought over by people smugglers who think little of their safety, or for their prospects once they arrive.
In Traiskirchen, some 4,000 asylum seekers crowd together, many sleeping on the floor. Hygiene is poor, doctors can’t cope, and there are children and young people without their parents facing a precarious future.
Aid organizations say the chaotic conditions in the camp are part of a wider failing by Austrian authorities to deal with the issue.
“Traiskirchen is the central symptom of Austria’s far-reaching structural failure in dealing with asylum seekers,” said Heinz Patzelt, general secretary of Amnesty International in Austria.
His colleague Daniela Pichler, head of communications and campaigning at Amnesty Austria, said: “When we visited it, some 1,500 people in Traiskirchen had to sleep out in the open, not including those who have to spend the nights outside the site. It’s an untenable situation.”
The situation has eased a little in recent days. Over the weekend, some 500 asylum seekers were taken to other hostels, but there is still no wide-ranging solution.
Tent cities, housing hundreds and sometimes thousands of refugees, have sprung up all over Austria. The government has the power to make cities and regional states house refugees until their case is dealt with. The problem now is that the numbers of people arriving has grown so large that the system cannot keep up.