“Klosterneuburg hilft” is a local initiative of volunteers that emerged when an abandoned barracks in our town was turned into a refugee camp at the end of 2014. Between 200 and 300 refugees were accommodated there, and the number of volunteers soon reached the same level. We organized German classes, art workshops, afternoon tea sessions, and sports events, which were always met with great interest, enthusiasm and openness.
The camp was closed after two years. However, since 2015, many locals had decided to offer asylum seekers an apartment or to live in the same household. More than 100 refugees, mostly from Syria and Afghanistan, have become a part of our community and our families.
Many of the newcomers have reached German skills on B1 level, many of the young Afghan men have taken a GCSE and a few even started an apprenticeship (at the time, that was admissible when there was a lack of national applicants for a certain type of job; however, that opportunity was abolished by lawmakers in 2018).
Our current activities as of 2018/2019 include the monthly afternoon tea, weekly football training and computer classes, as well as the financing of official German classes and exams. An important goal of our initiative is to invite newcomers to join voluntary work for various causes. Since 2017, groups of local volunteers and young Afghanis have prepared meals at kitchens for the homeless in Vienna on several occasions. Some have joined the Red Cross or the fire department, while others regularly volunteer at a nursery home. In March, we support the town’s day of collecting waste along the shore of the Danube. Meanwhile, the planning of our charity events has also led to the foundation of a dance group and a theatre group.
Thankfully, the town administration could allocate a small room in the town centre to the volunteers who managed the redistribution of donated clothes, appliances and furniture. The place was open to everybody in need who wanted to check out the available goods for free. The place was available for two years. Afterwards, the team joined a similar project of the Red Cross, which launched a second-hand project locally in 2018.
However, all is not well. Nearly all our Afghan friends who had arrived in Austria later than others and had their first asylum interview after October 2016 were rejected by the asylum authorities and had to file an appeal with the respective court. The decision on their future is still pending, they are not allowed to work, and repeated news of deportations to Afghanistan make them – and us – nervous and fearful. On personal level, our citizens are supporting their new Afghan friends and family members as much as possible to go ahead with their education and cope with the complex procedures of the asylum application. We hope that the dangerous situation in Afghanistan and the efforts made by both Austrian citizens and asylum seekers, as well as the personal emotions involved, will be acknowledged sooner rather than later.
Finally, we would like to point out that everybody is welcome to join our initiative, be it as a voluntary teacher or coach, a sponsor, or simply a guest and friendly face.