Refugee Crisis

Relief for refugees who make it to Austria

Relief for refugees who make it to Austria
Refugees at Vienna's Westbahnhof station. Photo: Kim Traill
It's almost the end of the journey for Saeed, a 23-year-old student from Damascus who has trekked for days through Turkey, Greece, Croatia and Hungary with his little brother and cousin in tow, his worried parents left behind.

“It's known that once you get to Austria, you've arrived.”

Standing at a border post in Nickelsdorf, a small Austrian town near Hungary where 7,000 migrants and refugees arrived on Sunday, the smiley fluent English-speaker waits patiently to board a bus towards his final, cherished destination – Germany.

Near him, hundreds chat or sit in a giant, snaking queue, their backpacks — containing their only possessions — stacked up next to them in a neat line as children play with a makeshift ball.

Others mass in a customs area not far away that had until recently been unused, waiting for taxis to take them some 60 kilometres away to Vienna, for a fee.

“I heard a rumour it was €150, I don't think that's much,” says Saeed, who is wavering between joining the mass waiting for cabs, or holding on for a bus that will take him to a train station or to refugee centres.

All of a sudden, those waiting in the snaking line for coaches rise up in cheers and whistles — several buses have arrived and their hours-long wait is coming closer to an end.

'No future in Syria'

But even as the buses fill up and take migrants and refugees from countries like Syria, Iraq, Pakistan and Nigeria away, authorities brace for another influx from Hungary.

“It's hard to say but we're expecting several thousand more,” says Gerald Pangl, police spokesman for the Burgenland area of Austria where the border post is located.

“We had expected that the migrants would take a new route after Hungary closed the border with Serbia,” he says. “We expected them to go through Croatia and to the south of Austria.”

But that didn't happen as Croatia, overwhelmed by some 21,000 asylum seekers, decided to take them to the border with Hungary, which in turn escorted them by bus or train to the Austrian border further north, and let them cross over.

The atmosphere at the Nickelsdorf border point is one of calm and relief, after weary days on sometimes dangerous roads to what many call a “better life.”

People queue up to get a bit of soup, bread and tea from volunteers, children and young men play football, a little girl draws in a notebook and a group of friends bursts into spontaneous song.

But for many, the memories of what — or who — they left behind is still raw.

“There's no future in Syria,” says Zeid al Forati, a 30-year-old journalist from Deir Ezzor in eastern Syria, which has been beset by clashes between the Islamic State group and the government army.

“Isis detained three of my friends, one was killed and we don't know where the other two are. They were taken because of their work.”

For others, apprehension of what lies ahead is starting to settle in.

“You know, in our country we are well off, we have a home, we have a car,” says Hassan Torkmani, a 29-year-old perfume mixer from the restive city of Latakia in Syria who is travelling with his wife, mother and other family members.

“My mum said just now, let me go back to my country, because all the memories are there,” he says. “If we go to any country now, we will start from zero.”