Refugees fear the worst ahead of far-right coalition in Austria

Photo credit: BBC 2017

TMP – 30/10/2017

On 15 October Austria’s conservative People’s Party (ÖVP), led by Sebastian Kurz, won the country’s general election with over 30 percent of the vote – taking over from the center-left Social Democratic Party as the largest party in Austria.

The election saw well over half of the country’s voters supporting parties that have proactively campaigned against immigration and refugee rights. The far-right, anti-refugee Freedom Party came in third with 27 percent of the vote.

Though Kurz has less of a hardline stance on immigration than other parties, political commentators have noticed a marked similarity in rhetoric to that of the Freedom Party, with Kurz calling for rescued migrants to be sent back to Africa and promising to slash benefits for newly arrived refugees.

Without an overall majority, the ÖVP is expected to form a coalition government with the Freedom Party, in a move that is worrying to refugee and Muslim communities as well as activists and rights groups.

Talking to Vice News, refugee Zakarya Ibrahem said: “When I first arrived in Austria two years ago, I was so grateful to the country for the way its people made refugees like me feel welcome. But a lot has changed since then—looking around me, I feel Austrian society has grown more negative and hostile toward refugees.”

On his fears for an Austria governed by an anti-migrant party Ibrahem added: “I’m really worried about what will happen if the FPÖ [Freedom Party] ends up in government. The far-right party has already promised to deport refugees, and I think that’s exactly what it’ll try to do.”
This shift in Austrian politics come at a time where anti-immigrant sentiments have sharply risen across Europe, following an increase in the number of asylum applications across the continent. In recent years, tens of thousands of refugees have settled in Austria alone.

Leading up to the elections, soon-to-be Chancellor Kurz regularly highlighted that as foreign minister he had stopped the flow of migrants along the Balkans route by closing Austria’s borders. He has promised to force Europe to do replicate his method and close the central Mediterranean route, the main path by which migrants reach the continent today.