Pastor vows to protect five Syrian refugees

The pastor of the village of Alberschwende in Vorarlberg has vowed to protect five Syrian refugees who are threatened with deportation and has given them accommodation in a parish house.

Pastor vows to protect five Syrian refugees
Alberschwende. Photo:

The men are due to be deported to Hungary and Italy, but Pastor Peter Mathei has said there are moral reasons why they should be allowed to stay in Austria.

The church is not allowed to grant asylum, so the police still have the power to come and remove the five men from the parish property, if they choose to do so.

Mathei said the five men have officially registered their new address, notifying the authorities that they are no longer living in the refugee hostel. He told the Kronen Zeitung newspaper that he hopes “they will be a little safer with us”.

The five men have been living in the village for four months. On June 22nd they will have been in Austria for six months and thus will be legally entitled to apply for asylum here.

“Hungary is not a safe country for asylum seekers,” Pastor Mathei said. He said media reports indicate that refugees in Hungary are imprisoned and mistreated.

Erich Schwarzmann, a spokesman for the local citizens group ‘We are asylum’ told the ORF that he was also strongly opposed to refugees being deported to Hungary. “They would rather go back to Syria, where they risk death, than be sent to Hungary, after all they have been through,” he said. ‘We are asylum’ has been supporting the refugees for months.

The five Syrians have been attending German classes and have been working on a community building site. 

Two weeks ago police searched homes in the community of around 3,000, in search of one refugee who was due to be deported, but did not find him.

On Easter Monday a group of drunk men tried to enter the refugee hostel, and Pastor Mathei said the refugees no longer feel safe there. He said that he felt it was his duty to protect them, and that the diocese of Feldkirch had no objections.

“Bishop Elbs accepts and respects Pastor Mathei’s decision,” a spokeswoman for the diocese said.

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What is Vienna’s MA 35 doing to offer better service for immigrants in Austria?

The city of Vienna now has several new appointment slots for a 'first information meeting' for those wanting to apply for Austrian citizenship. Here's what you need to know.

What is Vienna's MA 35 doing to offer better service for immigrants in Austria?

The office for immigration and citizenship in Vienna, MA 35, is known for long waiting periods, delays and even mistakes being made in applications. It has recently received renewed criticisms as new appointments for Austrian citizenship were not open until mid-2023.

Things got even worse, and applicants now have to wait until October 2023 to get the first appointment. Only after this meeting will they receive another date (sometimes also a year later) to submit the documents asked. 

READ ALSO: ‘Insensitive and inefficient’: Your verdict on Vienna’s immigration office MA 35

Green politician Aygül Berivan Aslan said the reform of MA 35 had “failed”. She said she welcomed the SPÖ’s push towards simplifying access to citizenship but felt that “theory and practice do not match”. Speaking in the Viennese parliament, she introduced a motion for a six-month evaluation of the office.

Aslan also proposed that in the case of delays of more than six months, citizenship costs should be waived for applicants. 

Stadt Wien service screenshot

How bad is the situation?

Not only do people have to wait months for a first talk and then months to submit documents, but once their part is done, the wait is not over. There are currently 3,800 procedures pending for more than half a year in the MA 35, Deputy Mayor and City Councillor for Integration Christoph Wiederkehr (NEOS) said.

He justified delays saying that the number of applications had risen by around 30 percent his year in Vienna – only last month, there were 600 appointments booked. 

“The sharp increase can be explained by the eligibility of refugees from 2015 to apply for citizenship as well as by uncertainties caused by the war in Ukraine”, he said.

READ ALSO: ‘Bring everything you have’: Key tips for dealing with Vienna’s immigration office MA 35

He added that the goal would need to be “simplifying the procedures nationwide”. However, Wiederkehr also said there were reforms still being implemented in the MA 35.

Wiederkehr said: “On the part of the city, there are ongoing staff increases at MA 35. The training of the employees is so complex that it takes about a year.” 

“In addition to the increase in staff, there was an analysis to optimise some work processes, as well as intensive training. Digitalisation is also being accelerated”, he added.