The deaths of 71 refugees in a truck in Austria stoked greater awareness of the stakes involved, the risks people run, the desperation of the places they have fled: Syria, Iraq or countries in Africa. Austrians realised the horrors involved.
Julain, an activist against right-wing extremism in Burgerland, said: “Until now, all those people were drowning in the Mediterranean, conveniently far away from us. Now we are seeing what impact our catastrophic politics are having right on our own front doorstep.”
Dagmar Freuwirth, another activist, condemned the treatment of the refugees who manage to reach Europe: “There are no illegal human beings. I find it horrible that people are being treated like animals, who have to sit behind a fence to be fed.”
Volunteers were out in force on Tuesday near the Vienna West Train Station, helping immigrants exhausted after passing through Hungary, handing out bread, water and fruit, and tooth brushes for everyone. Many of the arrivals count on heading onward to Germany.
There has been a robust rise in solidarity in Berlin also, where hundreds of people are camped out around the regional social affairs registration centre.
Inside the Berlin Office for Health and Social Affairs, a couple of NGOs have set up a children’s playground and an area to care for refugees who are ill or injured.
Volunteer doctor Dinah Laubisch said: “I was on holidays anyway,” she says “so it turned out well. Lots of my colleagues have taken time off work for this, or they are self-employed and carve out some time, or they put in some hours after work. It’s different for everyone.”
There has also been increasingly strong criticism of the authorities over their handling of the humanitarian crisis.
Activist Derya Aksaz said: “The Berlin Senate is failing on every count, and they will not admit this is a catastrophe. They don’t even want to say it’s a crisis.”
But conditions elsewhere are harder for the refugees, such as in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, although volunteers there are also trying to help.