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Votivkirche occupation continues

Asylum seeker forced eviction unlikely

The occupation of the Votivkirche Church in Vienna by asylum seekers protesting against the conditions they are being kept in and against deportation is continuing.

The possibility that police might be used to remove the asylum seekers has already been dismissed as unlikely in particular because it would need the backing of the dioceses which they are unlikely to receive

The asylum seekers also want the opportunity to work while their claims for asylum are being considered and also for their fingerprints to be deleted if they are rejected so that they have a chance of asylum in another country.

Latest information is that there are currently 30 protesters in the church of which 14 are on a hunger strike and refusing to eat. Several of these are reportedly now showing signs of extreme weakness and have been getting medical treatment on site but are refusing to be taken to hospital.

The protest is part of an ongoing debate in Austria about the lack of facilities for asylum seekers in the country centring around a row between the national government and regional governments about who was responsible for providing those facilities - and paying for them.

Frustrated at the lack of progress a group of asylum seekers set up a tent city in the park in front of the Votivkirche and when pressure was put on them to move a group of them fled into the nearby Votivkirche on December 18th where they announced a hunger strike and refused to move.

The situation is at the moment that there is a stand-off between the asylum seekers and officials. Workers from Catholic charity Caritas have been attempting to defuse the situation and have arranged alternative accommodation for those involved in the protest but so far none of them have taken up the offer to move. However dozens of other asylum seekers including women with children who are not part of the original process have now moved into the alternative accommodation set up for the protesters.

Over Christmas the protesters apparently attempted to step up their campaign by spreading it to the Saint Stephen's Cathedral but they were prevented from entering by church officials backed up by local police.

The protesters had reportedly also tried to disrupt the Christmas Eve Mass in the Votivkirche but were prevented from doing so by plain clothes police officers.

The director of Caritas in Vienna Michael Landau recently visited the asylum seekers and has been trying to persuade Chancellor Werner Faymann (SPÖ) to come and speak to them personally – so far without success.

He said they were now desperate and were too scared to take up the offer of moving to new quarters after constantly being disappointed in the past . He said that many people in the community had shown sympathy for the situation and had taken them Christmas presents and food to the refugees.

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