Greece’s Austrian community has issued a withering denunciation of Vienna’s strongarm approach to the refugee crisis, describing it as “callous” and deeply embarrassing for the country’s citizens abroad.
In an open letter to the government, an English-language version of which has been passed to the Observer, prominent Austrians long connected with Greece appeal to their nation’s coalition government to assume a more responsible role in handling Europe’s refugee crisis.
In an extraordinary about-turn that has seen it break ranks with Berlin, Vienna has led a charge to reintroduce border controls that has effectively sealed the Balkan migration route. By Saturday, closure of the corridor had trapped around 32,000 migrants and refugees in Greece, with more than a third of them stranded at the Macedonian border, where a state of emergency was declared.
The situation arose after Austria – imposing a cap on the number of refugees it would accept – held a mini-summit of eastern European and Balkan states in which it was agreed that restrictions would be tightened to stem immigration.
The expatriates, many of whom have lived in Greece for decades and in less heated times are the first to criticise their adopted homeland’s failings, accuse Vienna of pursuing neo-nationalistic policies that have “no place” in the Europe of the 21st century. While the burden of managing the crisis has fallen to impoverished, debt-ridden Greece, they say, Austria has distorted the truth, misrepresenting the number of refugees it has taken in since men, women and children fleeing conflict in the Middle East and poverty elsewhere began to pour into Europe.