There has been a public outcry in Austria after Freedom Party Interior Minister, Herbert Kickl, made a statement in which he declared that ‘basic services centres, suitable infrastructure that enables us to concentrate people in the asylum process in one place.’ This comes as the party’s leaders, Heinz-Christian Strache, has said migrants should be held in disused barracks and subjected to curfews to restore ‘order.’
There has been a lot of backlash against the statements made by both Kickl and Strache. Alexander Pollak, head of migrants’ charity SOS Mitmensch, has called the comments ‘intentionally provocative.’ Kickl denies that this was his intention. Vice Mayor of Vienna, Maria Vassilako, has said that it is important to ensure that the language of Nazism does not creep back into people’s lives. Steffi Krisper, a member of the liberal Neo’s party has said the statements look “like a deliberate provocation which is subsequently denied in a half-hearted fashion.”
Snap legislative elections were held in Austria late last year in which a new coalition government, made up of the conservative Austrian People’s Party and the Nationalist Freedom Party. The Freedom Party (FPÖ) has ties to Nazism; its founder was a former Nazi functionary and SS officer. The party has, however, gained support under Strache’s leadership. While both parties received a surge of support, which has projected them into power in the recent elections, many Austrians oppose their new coalition government. This has been clear in yesterday’s protests in Vienna, where at least 20,000 citizens protested the right-wing government.
Protests like these are important in ensuring that governments, like Austria’s, are checked and balanced. The language that its leaders have employed recently needs to be prevented from entering our way of thinking. Normalizing this language only risks an escalation of extreme actions and behaviour such as segregation certain groups, for example, migrants, which only serves to ostracise them. Disaffected sections of these groups, in turn, push back against the segregation often, but not always, in the form of violence. Therefore, it is important that basic service centres and suitable infrastructure is provided to support asylum seekers, but not in a way that segregates them from the society they now live in. Segregation only creates ‘othering’ in which neither group are able to understand the other’s actions and intentions because they are not easily able to interact with each other. Correct knowledge and understanding other people’s culture and way of life are vital for people to have empathy and comprehension of other’s actions, which in turn, decreasing violence and increasing compassion.
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