»Think [for example] about a Syrian refugee family. How much courage and true grit and ingenuity and energy does it take to put your two year old daughter on your back, grab your four year old son’s hand and walk across Turkey and walk across the Balkans and somehow make it to Germany [or Austria]. It’s like The Hunger Games. I want those people on my team.«The former NATO Supreme Allied Commander Europe, US Admiral James Stavridis on the »Intelligence Matters Podcast«, December 4th 2019
Cold War Compassion
During the times of the Cold War, Austrians prided themselves for the help and shelter they provided to refugees from the Soviet Block. Today it is a much cherished part of our national folklore how we received fleeing Hungarians with open arms when Soviet tanks crushed their national uprising in 1956, Czechoslovaks after the forced ending of the Prague Spring in 1968, and individuals from all over Eastern Europe for as long as the Cold War lasted.
When Yugoslavia broke up in brutal secessionist wars in the 1990s, that generally open attitude reached first limits. Muslim refugees from Bosnia and Herzegovina in particular proved to be a stretch for the liberalism of many Austrians, with xenophobe tendencies amongst them fanned by the Freedom Party, then in the midst of it’s first heyday under the leadership of Jörg Haider.
Austrian liberalism reached its breaking point in the years following the European refugee crisis of 2015. A botched reaction of the European Union, the hysterical fearmongering by the Freedom Party in its next iteration under the leadership of Heinz Christian Strache, and the fact that the up to then mainstream conservative People’s Party jumped the populist-xenophobe bandwagon turned the mood in large parts of the Austrian populace.
The Politics of Fear
Since then, predominantly Muslim refugees from the Middle East, South- and Central Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa are widely perceived as a menace that is best locked out of felix Austria. If they none the less make it here, they have to endure never ending and generally hostile asylum proceedings during which they are denied the right to work. They have to sit out day after day for years in refugee centres, or modest privately rented accommodations, hoping for the mercy of asylum very few actually get these days.
Many Austrians – unsettled by sensationalist reporting of the tabloid press and incited by populist xenophobic politicians – choose to close their eyes to the plight of refugees, made woefully easy by the fact that we in general come across them in the form of impersonal numbers and statistics.
The Politics of getting to know each other
With this series of portraits I intend to try and counter that tendency. Try to give some refugees hoping for a life in safety here in Austria a face and a sketch of a story one can relate to. Give back to some of them some individuality and humanity beyond the numbers and statistics that are all too easily perceived as threatening.
I started the series focused solely on Afghan refugees because I think they are in a singularily terrible situation. But since then people of other origins have volunteered to have their portrait taken and I have found no good reason to turn them away.
Far From Afghanistan
Refugees from Afghanistan are indeed in the most terrible fix. They come from a country ravaged by war for almost forty one years straight. There was the war against the Soviet invaders that was followed by the civil war the Mujahidin rebels fought against the Soviet-backed government, followed by a Hobbesian war of all against all warlords, followed by the war between the Taliban and the Northern Alliance, followed by the Taliban insurgency against an US-backed government. Today there rages the world’s most lethal conflict. If one has to pinpoint a country where the chances are high for the proverbial life that is nasty, brutish, and short – Afghanistan would come to mind.
»INTERNAL FLIGHT ALTERNATIVE«
While the present conflict in Afghanistan is – as ever – widespread and volatile, civilian casualties are increasing, and no part of the country remains unaffected, many European countries deny Afghans asylum – and thereby paving the way for their return – on the basis of a controversial concept in international refugee law called »Internal Flight Alternative«. So do immigration authorities in Austria.
Jawad Hosseini, born in 1998. In Austria since 2015. First application for asylum declined in 2018. Waits for second interview. Read the story of Jawad here.
Matiullah Safi, born in 1993. Came to Austria in the summer of 2016. His first application for asylum was declined. He appealed and is waiting for his second interview.
Maryam Haidari, born in 1988. Reached Austria in January 2016. Was granted asylum and works in a supermarket. Detailed story to follow here.
Murtaza Rezai, does not know exactly when he was born. Came to Austria in the summer of 2015. Was until recently granted sunsidiary protection status. Waits now for a decision on his request for asylum. Read his story here.
Mohammad Akbar Amiri, born in 1998. Reached Austria at the end of 2015. Application for asylum decined in January 2018. He appealed and is waiting for his second interview.
Ali Jowshani, born 2000. In Austria since November of 2015. Was granted subsidiary protection status. Detailed Story to follow here.
Morteza Ansari, born 2000. Came to Austria in October 2015. Under subsidiary protection until 2019. Currently waiting for a resolution on his application for asylum. Read the story of Morteza here.
Mamozai Wahidullah, born in 1997. Reached Austria in 2015. Had his fist asylum interview in 2016 after which his application was declined. Appealed and was invited for a second interview in the summer of 2020.
Jasin Atay, born in 1999. In Austria since May of 2015. First application for asylum declined in September 2018. Appealed and is waiting for his second interview.
Alireza Amiri, born in 1999. Came to Austria in December 2015. First application for asylum declined in May 2018. Appealed and is waiting for his second interview.
Far from Home
Coskon Ede, born in 1965. Turkish national of Kurdish origin. Fled Turkey in 1988. Holder of a temporary residence and work permit.
Ardalan Rasul, born in 1993. Iraqi national of Kurdish origin. Fled Iraq in 2010 and was granted asylum.
Mohammad Kaiwani, born in 1975. Iranian national. Converted to Christianity fifteen years ago. Fled to Austria in 2014 and was granted asylum in 2016. Repairer of things. Plays the violin.