Self-styled activists who led a mass “refugee convoy” and drove from Austria into Hungary before returning with migrants could face criminal charges of people smuggling. At least three people who took part in the mass action, an increasingly common ploy in the migrant chaos now gripping Europe, are the subject of an investigation by the Vienna public prosecutor’s office.
Around 150 cars were driven to Budapest and Györ in Hungary on September 6th , where they picked up the Syrian migrants and drove them back to Austria for no charge. The convoy’s organisers have since admitted the plan was to shuttle their human cargo on to Germany where they could be part of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s ‘open door’ Middle East migrant programme.
One of the Austrian activists who took part, Angelika Neuwirth, told the BBC that their aim was a humanitarian one: “I think this is my duty. I’m a mum, I’m a woman from Austria and I can’t close my eyes anymore,” she said. “We are all human. No-one is illegal.”
Two days later activists from another group called Migration Aid transported another 80 Syrian migrants by private car, taxi and public transport to Budapest’s Keleti (Eastern) station where they put them on trains to Austria.
The migrants said they had been transported to the Hotel Berlin from Serbia, Keleti station or elsewhere in Hungary in private cars and taxis, and told it was the place to arrange their onward journey to Germany.
According to a report in Austria’s Der Standard newspaper, the Linz public prosecutor is investigating those cases and another illegal people trafficking scheme, this time in cyberspace – an online platform called ‘fluchthelfer.in’ which was launched in Germany and gives people tips on how to help migrants without facing prosecution.
The site’s owners could face charges of encouraging people to commit crimes and disobey the law; if convicted they would face a maximum of two years in prison. Authorities in Germany have also joined the case.
Michael Platzer, an envoy of the Academic Council on the United Nations System (ACUNS), said at a meeting at the Institute of Criminology in Vienna that the state is “forcing people to break the law as it has made legal passage for refugees impossible”.
The newspaper reports Mr Platzer argued that the law regarding people smuggling should be abolished, as it only serves “to drive smugglers’ prices up”. Recent proposals to tighten asylum laws in Austria – which would make it harder for family members to join recognised refugees – will drive more people into the arms of people smugglers, he added.
Gerald Tatzgern, head of the government’s Anti-Smuggling Unit, disagreed. He said that his department is only “concerned with the serious cases” and that the priority is to protect refugees.
Criminal law expert Andreas Schloenhardt told Der Standard that many people smugglers are “just doing what the government should be doing” and he is in favour of targeted resettlement and the establishment of UN-supervised transit camps.