People Smuggling: Current Trends in Austria

People smugglers are advertising on TikTok for people being forced to leave their home countries, and the Daily Mail has reported that Austria is not immune from such cases. Those who decide to try to make the trip can expect their response to be followed by dangerous transportation in vans or lorries, with their safety just one of a litany of problems. Those who can afford to do so will use forged identification papers and legal help, ensuring their journey to “safe” countries is less dangerous. Even these lucky few, however, are terrorised and held captive while travelling.

If you’re scrolling on TikTok, viewing something for entertainment, a very different kind of experience may pop up nowadays in amongst all those videos, as people-smugglers are using ads showing their successful trips. The algorithm doesn’t allow videos like these to go viral, of course, but they are reaching people who might well be interested in such a message. Ads are also being posted for drivers, and these are certainly not one-off cases. In Central America, accounts promoting smuggling into the USA are now widespread, with trips to Britain, France, the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland also being advertised. As Der Standard reported recently, criminal gangs are even marketing their dubious services starting out from Vienna’s Favoriten district.

A number of so-called “bunker apartments”, where people are accommodated temporarily before travelling on to their destinations, are reputed to be dotted across Vienna. Inconspicuous and small, the apartments are usually only used for a few months’ time, but by dozens of people. This spring, the newspaper reported there was a bunker apartment in the district of Ottakring briefly serving as a home to anything up to 300 people at a time.

The refugees are crammed into completely overloaded lorries. Although vehicles which appear suspicious are continuously stopped and checked, with some success, it is impossible to say just how many people are slipping through the net. People are also being smuggled into, or through, Austria inside vans and the boots of larger cars, in an effort to start a new existence as inconspicuously as possible – but they are all around us. You might well drive right past them just as they are getting into the car.

The total number of asylum applications from January to September this year fell significantly in Austria compared to last year. In the Burgenland region, however,  almost 2,000 refugees were picked up in one week in October this year. Couple this with the fact that over 1,600 convicted people-smugglers are due to be released in Hungary this year, who will then have to leave the country within 72 hours, and the situation can by no means be described as easy. As well as this, there is no end to the conflicts in Ukraine or the Middle East in sight, which is certain to cause further movements of refugees. Although we should be helping people on humanitarian grounds, we should also be doing more, given the overall situation, to tackle and reduce the causes of these refugee movements, in the interest of all.

Translated by Tim Lywood

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