Serpent's Egg

The Eroticism of Fat Men

Refugees confounded by Merkel’s decision to close German borders

At Vienna’s central station stranded refugees say constant changes in border policy is cruel game played at their expense

Stranded people at Vienna’s train station after train services to Germany were suspended. Photograph: Joe Klamar/AFP/Getty Images

Angela Merkel, Germany’s chancellor, has cut a chequered figure this summer: scorned for taking Greece to the wall, and praised for welcoming large numbers of Syrians to Germany. But nowhere and at no time has she been more of an enigma than she was in Vienna’s central station on Monday where crowds of refugees struggled to reconcile how the same “Mama Merkel” had opened Germany’s borders one week, and closed them again barely eight days later – leaving those at the station stranded.

“She said she will bring big boats from Turkey to rescue Syrians!” said Maria, a Syrian who fled the bombs of Damascus six weeks ago. “And now why has she closed the border?” asked Maria’s daughter.

For a week, refugees had been able to freely board trains to Germany from Vienna – but Sunday’s developments returned the status quo to how it was in late August. Station staff said on Monday that the rail border had reopened at 7am, less than a day after Germany had stopped all inbound rail services. But the ticket machines would not let people book journeys to German destinations. And while some had managed to get fares from the ticket office, it was unclear to many people whether the border had reopened or not.

Pacing around the concourse with her two children, Galbari al-Hussein saw the constant changes in border policy as a cruel game played at the expense of vulnerable refugees. “We’ve travelled so far, thousands of kilometres, and now they’re closing the borders,” said Hussein, who reached Vienna barely a week after escaping Islamic State territory, hidden in an unfamiliar niqab. “Is it open, is it closed? It’s very unfair.”

People sit at the end of a platform at Vienna’s train station.
People sit at the end of a platform at Vienna’s train station. Station staff said on Monday that the rail border had reopened, leaving many in confusion about whether they could travel or not. Photograph: Joe Klamar/AFP/Getty Images

Among Syrians, there lingered the suspicion that their chances had been spoilt by people hoping to piggyback on the generosity shown by Germany to the victims of the Syrian civil war. “Not everyone here is Syrian,” said Josef, from Damascus, who disclosed his exact address in an attempt to prove his nationality. “People say they are Syrians, but they are from somewhere else. And that’s why this is happening,” he added, gesturing at his friends sitting on the pavement outside the station, instead of on a seat in a train bound to Germany.

As rumours swirled, even non-Syrian refugees couldn’t help but wonder whether they were the real targets of the German border shenanigans. Hany, an Iraqi engineering student, smiled wistfully. “Germany is very good to Syrians,” he said. “It wants all the Syrians to come, but maybe not the Iraqis.”

There was one thing on which everyone could agree. Whatever Germany does or doesn’t do with its border, refugees will still keep fleeing to Europe. “Everybody is coming,” said Iyad, a Syrian student. “They are coming, coming, coming. My brother will leave Syria in two days.” Iyad’s friend Amal nodded in agreement. “The only people who will stay are those who don’t have any money,” said Amal. “People are selling their cars and homes to come here.”

Back on the station concourse, Galbari al-Hussein admitted recent developments meant that Syrians now “won’t be sure” about whether Germany was the refuge they previously thought it was. Nevertheless, Syrians will probably keep coming, because they are fleeing from death, she said. “We lived under the flight path of bombers, so we could have either died in the street, or at home. And when that is the situation, you have to leave.”


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This entry was posted on September 15, 2015 by and tagged , , , , .

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