A group of Austrians and refugees held a spontaneous ‘swim protest’ at the municipal swimming pool on Sunday evening in response to a notice from the management last week announcing that “people with a migration background” would not be allowed into the pool unless they were accompanied by an “appropriate escort”.
The management said that this was in response to a number of “complaints from guests and staff” about incidents where male refugees had come to the swimming pool without appropriate swimwear and had entered the ladies’ changing room.
Mödling's mayor, Hans-Stefan Hintner (ÖVP), later removed the notice, saying that the text was misleading and was not meant to announce a blanket ban on all immigrants but referred to "a small group of people".
The manager of the ÖVP in Lower Austria, Bernhard Ebner, defended the notice on Monday, saying that "whoever strives to uphold security and order in public places is in the right", adding that house rules and laws must apply to all sections of the population.
Around 180 unaccompanied young asylum seekers are currently housed at an asylum centre in Mödling.
A group of around 20 people turned up at the pool on Sunday evening to protest against the notice. One of the organisers, Natalie, told the Kurier newspaper that “this kind of everyday racism cannot be tolerated in the 21st century".
Mödling local Anna Teichgräber added that “such blatant discrimination is prohibited by law". Teichgräber is now collecting donations of swimwear for refugees. “One of the things the management complained about was that a few refugees had gone into the pool wearing jogging trousers or underpants, so we hope to avoid this in the future”.
The head of Lower Austria's Socialist Youth party, Julia Jakob, said in a press release that she was "appalled" by the swimming pool's action. "To refuse people because of race, religion or colour is reminiscent of one of the darkest periods in our history."
Another swimming pool in Bisamberg, also in Lower Austria, has said that asylum seekers will only be allowed into the pool with a "supervisor" after complaints that young male asylum seekers had been "too noisy" and had been going into the ladies' showers - although there were no reports of sexual harassment, local police said.