Salzburg: please proceed to Germany

English only             Salzburg, 29 April

Today I arrived at Salzburg main station – the station through which about 350.000 refugees and migrants passed between August 2015 and February 2016. At that time there was a small tent city at the main entrance of the station for first reception.

Salzburg main station

Underneath the place is an underground car park that was used as transit accommodation for the newly arriving – sometimes for up to three days.

However, the sole purpose of this set-up was to wait for the refugees to continue their journey to Germany either by train or by foot. There was no registration carried out because “whoever registers first is bitten by the dogs”, as I was told by an employee of the local Caritas. Between October 2015 and mid-February of this year there was an agreement between Germany and Austria that the former would accept up to 6000 asylum seekers per day. Before that, Germany accepted every refugee coming from its neighbor since end of August. This de facto ‘Obergrenze’ led to the Austrian government perceiving the refugees only as in transit.

Neither the Austrian nor the German government made any distinction during those months between asylum seekers and migrants looking for economic opportunities. There were more pressing issues and practicalities to handle and since “absolutely nobody was prepared”, this aspect just fell under the table.

Today Austria has a daily limit of 80 refugees it allows into the country at its southern borders. As my interview partner from the Caritas explained, this number is by far not reached, at least not when it comes to legal transits. The numbers in Spielfeld at the border to Slovenia (probably the busiest border crossing last year and an upcoming stop on my route) have dropped to zero (in numbers: 0) asylum seekers over the last three weeks.

Zero border crossings, yet hundreds of newly registered asylum applications/week

Interestingly, the Austrian interior ministry still registers several hundred new asylum applications per week – nobody knows where those people are coming from. The two options are illegal border crossings, solidifying my assumption that there are still people on the route moving northwards; or refugees who have already been in the country but have not registered before.

The massive drop in numbers has direct consequences for Germany as well. As a visit in Freilassing on the German side of the border revealed, everything is incredibly calm. According to an officer from the Federal Police only one asylum seeker arrived yesterday at the train station.

Remnants of busier days in Freilassing (GER)

This was confirmed by the security guard at the furniture storage facility turned first reception centre in the city’s industrial district (ironically, right behind a McDonalds and opposite the ‘Event House’).

Reception centre in Freilassing

This day was quite eventful for me and I gathered quite some material on the current situation in Salzburg and on the German side of the border. Additionally, I managed to delve into the issue of border controls etc. You may expect an article on that over the course of the coming week!

Until then, take care!



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