One night

Wednesday, 1 pm.

Grey and white tents gather on the market square in Dornbirn, along with more and more people wearing FFP2 masks and keeping a safe distance. The 24-hour protest begins. Wet conditions, snow and temperatures below zero will ensure that it won’t be too cosy. The theme is clearly visible and audible: “Jetzt schlägt’s 13” or “Wir haben Platz” is written on the posters. Supporters give speeches and sing, there are video contributions and dance interludes, the audience is kept warm by a flash mob. And it’s always about the conditions in Europe’s refugee camps, calls to improve the situation and to agree on humane solutions on the ground. There is definitely nothing absurd about what we youth ambassadors, together with many supporters, have demanded and continue to demand. Respect for the most basic rights of our society. The very rights on which our much-loved “values” are built. The rights that are enshrined in the core of the Austrian Republic. Human rights and, above all, children’s rights.

What does that mean in concrete terms? Children must be able to grow up safely. They have a right to a peaceful home and basic supplies of medicine, food and water. In addition, children should also have space to develop. In the refugee camps, there are no places of retreat, no privacy, no freedom. There is a lack of safe spaces to play and dream. There is little or no access to education. The lack of psychological support is particularly bad. Most refugee children suffer from chronic anxiety, panic attacks, depression and suicidal thoughts. Children live in danger on European soil every day. The camps are the places of their childhood. How are they supposed to learn to overcome these traumas without professional help and intensive care? How will they ever grow up to be healthy and happy adults?

There are often people who argue that so many children are in a bad way and that not everyone can be helped. But what about those whose fate is in our hands? How can we simply stand by and watch? How can Austria commit itself to protecting children’s rights by ratifying the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and not fulfil these obligations in the EU’s hotspots?

If the politicians fail, the population must put pressure on them. This one night should be a sign of solidarity and at the same time a renewed wake-up call to society that things cannot go on like this. To remind people that the horror does not end when they reach Europe’s borders. In the camps, they face chronic overcrowding, inadequate accommodation and care, mud and rats, long periods of detention, violence and danger, a lack of prospects and hopelessness. Given this long list of problems, it is incomprehensible to me why people are still asking why we are campaigning for something to change as quickly as possible. The rights of those who are particularly worthy of protection are at stake. Change is needed. Quick, joint and sustainable solutions. Actions that give people back their dignity. Actions that not only give hope, but above all realise dreams. Because no child can build a future from one-off payments, nice gestures and empty words.

‘How was the night?

I think about this question as I sit in the warm kitchen at home, fresh from a hot shower, a cup of tea on the table in front of me.
One night. In the cold, in the snow, outdoors. What is this compared to the conditions in which people and especially children have to live in the refugee camps in Europe? One night. How many for the refugees? I think of what was going through my mind as I lay in my sleeping bag. What would it be like to spend the night here, not knowing how much longer? On wet blankets because the rain flooded the tent again yesterday? Not being able to fall asleep because I’m worried about my child’s future, which looks a little bleaker every day? I thought about the shattered dreams, the fears and worries, the feeling of hopelessness.
I realised that we had a choice that night in the protest camp. If it gets too cold, we have a room to warm up in. If I don’t feel well, there is good medical care available. And tomorrow I’ll be safe in a warm bed, because it’s only one night.

If this night has made me realise one thing more, it is that it is unimaginable for us what these children and families are going through in the refugee camps. We cannot empathise with what they have already experienced as a result of their flight and how they now have to live. We had a choice, these people do not. They cannot simply return to their warm, clean homes. The “tent city” is their new home. For a week, a month, a year or even several. The situation is inhumane, violates rights and is the reality of far too many people.

This is precisely why we can no longer stand by in silence. Something has to change, more has to happen, the outcry has to grow. It is clear that this one night is not enough and will not work miracles – but it was enough to give me hope. Because we received active support, many people showed solidarity and a willingness to help. Everyone made a contribution in their own way. And if enough creative minds, strong-willed personalities and warm hearts come together, start campaigns and demand politicians, then we could really make a difference.


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