Anger over Austrian scheme to send Syrians to Slovakia

An Austrian scheme to send hundreds of Syrian asylum seekers to Slovakia is causing anger on the ground

Photo by: TRT WORLD
Photo by: TRT WORLD

Pharmacists Basel and Etidal with their son Omar are from Damascus. They applied for asylum in Austria but are now at the camp in Gabčíkovo, Slovakia

"I want to go back to Austria to be with my sister," 20 year old Ahmed (not his real name) from Syria tells me while smoking a cigarette, "but I have no choice. I've been sent to Slovakia."

Ahmed is among hundreds of Syrian asylum seekers who managed to reach Austria earlier this year but who have now been sent to a refugee camp in the Slovakian village of Gabčíkovo.

The camp is controversial. Over the summer Austria made a deal with the Slovakian government to temporarily house 500 refugees, something residents of the village strongly campaigned against.

"Austria is better than here. Here people don't like us," says Ahmed pointing towards the village.

"I was walking in the street and people talk to me bad. I don't want to be here," he says.

Ahmed (not his real name) travelled from Homs to Austria, but is now in a camp in Gabčíkovo, Slovakia. He is speaking to TRT World reporter Duncan Crawford and didn't want to be identified [TRT World]

Ahmed's a long way from his home in Homs, Syria's third largest city and one of the key battlegrounds in the uprising against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

He managed to escape the blood and chaos by paying people smugglers thousands of dollars to take him to Europe.

Flicking through photos on his smartphone, he shows me his mum and dad, pictures of his home and his elder sister who is already in Vienna.

"We don't smile so much anymore," he says.

Were you involved in fighting? Do you know many people who've been killed? I ask.

"I wasn't involved in fighting. But many of my friends have died. I've lost a lot of friends," he mutters while taking a drag on his cigarette.

Ahmed, like others at the camp, hopes his asylum application is processed quickly so he can return to Vienna in the next few months.

But for many residents in Gabčíkovo, that's a few months too long.

People in the village, who are mostly ethnic Hungarian, are angry that Syrian asylum seekers have been allowed to stay.

The village held a vote in the summer over the issue of refugees and 97 percent voted against allowing Syrian asylum seekers to stay at the camp.

The vote wasn't recognised by the Slovakian government.

"They had a vote here but the government decided the refugees could come anyway," an elderly man tells me in one of the village bars.

"Local opinion doesn't matter," he says.

Ten year old Mohammed says the food at the refugee camp is so bad that even animals refuse to eat it [TRT World]

The Slovakian authorities argue that they are helping deal with the refugee crisis by temporarily taking in people who are claiming asylum in Austria.

That's despite the government loudly protesting against EU plans to share 120,000 refugees across Europe as part of a quota system.

The EU deal was agreed even though Slovakia and three other countries voted against it.

In the refugee camp, ten year old Mohammed from Syria seems unaware of the tensions caused by his arrival.

He proudly introduces himself in English and says he'd like to be interviewed.

"I'm very happy to be here. It is safe," he says. "But the food is terrible. If you try to feed it to the animals, even they don't want to eat it. It is so bad."

Author: Duncan Crawford