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Flüchtlinge in Österreich Kendae Jla
Image: DW/A. Langley

Even razor fences can't stop migrants

Alison Langley, Vienna
September 19, 2015

Austria was expecting up to 10,000 people to cross its border Saturday. DW correspondent Alison Langley spoke with some of the refugees at Vienna's main train station.


The razor-sharp fence Hungary built to keep out refugees and migrants didn't even last two days.

Instead, it caused Iraqi Tariq Othman to pay two Pakistanis to cut it so he could get through. And it left Syrian Kendae Jle and her 4-year-old daughter waiting more than 12 hours at the Vienna train station for her husband and her other daughter.

Some 10,000 people were expected to cross into Austria Saturday, according to a spokesman for the Austrian Interior Ministry. The exact number of refugees could match the record this small Alpine country received in one day last week.

Hans Peter Doskozil, a police spokesman for the eastern state of Burgenland, said around 2,500 refugees were expected to cross the border overnight, with more due on Sunday.

They arrive at one of two borders towns by bus, then walk the few hundred meters to Austria where they are driven to camps staffed by Red Cross and other volunteers and given food and drink. In hourly intervals, buses bring them either to Vienna, Graz or Salzburg.

At Vienna's west train station, the groups of about 80 people are then taken to trains leaving for Salzburg. Trains then take them on to Germany.

Waiting for husband and daughter

But Jle didn't get on a train. Instead, she stayed behind with her daughter to wait for her husband and other daughter to arrive. The quiet woman in her late 20s sat worried on a train bench on platform one, as her daughter jumped and danced around the bench. They had been there all day, waiting.

She had not seen her 5-year-old daughter for seven months, Jle said. But her husband had called Friday night. He said the pair were in Croatia, and they were hoping to board a bus soon that would take them to Austria.

When Hungary connected the last links of its razor fence, refugees changed their routes and headed to Austria via the much longer route of Croatia and Slovenia. But then Slovenia, too, sealed its border, and refugees like Jle's husband and daughter were trapped in Croatia.

Flüchtlinge Kroatien Tovarnik Bahnhof
Croatia, overwhelmed by the influx of refugees, has sent them on to Hungary and SloveniaImage: Getty Images/AFP/STR

In a late-night deal, Hungary agreed to once again allow refugees to pass through its borders. Per capita, Hungary has taken in the highest number of asylum seekers in the EU and Prime Minister Viktor Orban has declared a state of emergency.

The agreement gave Jle's husband hope that he and his daughter would make it to Austria. They agreed to meet in Vienna.

Jle and her sister arrived in Austria in early June and requested asylum. They now live in an apartment in Salzburg with their two children. Jle's husband owned a plastics factory in Aleppo until it was bombed in February. The two families fled to Turkey where they all hoped to journey together to Europe.

But they could only afford to pay smugglers for two adults to travel, Jle told DW. The smugglers demanded about $6,000 (5,300 euros) for each person.

They agreed that the husbands would continue to work to raise money for the rest of the family while the two wives journeyed to find a new home. "We are the strong ones," joked her sister, who did not want to be named.

Flüchtlinge in Österreich Kendae Jla
Kendae Jle hasn't seen her 5-year-old daughter for seven monthsImage: DW/A. Langley

Sleeping six nights in a forest

The two women and their small children took a boat to Athens, then walked to Bulgaria and Serbia. Jle said they were forced to sleep six nights in the woods with their children, both of whom caught colds. In all, it took nearly a month before they arrived in Austria.

Their original plan was to travel to Germany, but they were too weary and the children too sick to continue. So they requested asylum in Austria. "I love it here," the sister said through an interpreter. "The people are so nice, so welcoming."

But Jle cannot smile. She hasn't heard from her husband in 12 hours. They agreed to meet in Vienna because Jle said she can't wait any longer to hug her oldest child. Her husband's phone is no longer working, and she doesn't know whether the battery has gone out or if he ran out of minutes on his pre-paid SIM card.

"We'll spend the night here [on the platform] if we have to," she said, then shook her head. "I'm just tired of this. I want this part behind us. I can only think of my daughter. I want to see my daughter."

Her sister nodded in agreement as the two toddlers danced around the platform, before adding: "Better tired here than dead in Aleppo."

Outrunning Hungarian border guards

Iraqi Tariq Othman, too, was alone. He lost the other people he had been traveling with when Hungarian border police discovered the cut razor fence. "I go fast, run," he said in broken English.

Flüchtlinge in Österreich Tariq Othman
Tariq Othman is hoping to get to FinlandImage: DW/A. Langley

He had decided to pay the 8,000-euro smuggler fee after "Islamic State" militants arrived in Mosul, where he drove a truck for a living.

The 23-year-old said he was ultimately hoping to get to Finland. He decided on that destination when he was in detention in Bulgaria. The police caught a group of travelers, beat them up, took all their personal belongings and money, Othman said. His account could not be independently verified, but his story is similar to many others.

Othman has a cousin in Dortmund and he had been hoping to join him. But while waiting in Sofia for his brother to send more money so he could continue his journey about 10 days ago, Othman heard the news that Germany was closing its borders to refugees.

"Germany is too full. I know they are not taking people any more," he said.

He doesn't know anything about Finland and cannot even name a city in the country. "But I have GPS," he joked. Still, he is determined to make a home there, learn the language and get a job. His ultimate goal is to earn enough money so that his brother and mother can join him.

"I will find someone, somewhere to take me," he said.

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