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This Silent Protest Song to Benefit Refugees Just Topped the Charts in Austria

An Austrian artist thought of the project after following distressing reports of the conditions at an overcrowded refugee center located in Traiskirchen, a town just south of Vienna.

by Andrea Maurer
Aug 21 2015, 9:40pm

Image via Raoul Haspel

It's quiet at the top of the iTunes chart in Austria — no melody, no bass, no vocals.

The Austrian artist Raoul Haspel released a track on Friday titled "Schweigeminute (Traiskirchen)," a minute of silence that serves as an unconventionally inaudible protest song against the treatment of refugees in Europe, which he finds shocking.

Haspel thought of the project after following distressing reports of the conditions at an overcrowded refugee center located in Traiskirchen, a town just south of Vienna.

"I was speechless in the face of the conditions, which are unworthy of human beings," he told VICE News over the phone. The sorry spectacle had laid bare what he described as "the incredible failure of the Austrian government and of European policy."

The 35-year-old artist hoped that the track's publicity and sales would help raise awareness of the situation at Traiskirchen as well as money to aid the migrants held there, but was struck by how quickly customers on iTunes responded to his radical gesture: pre-orders for "Schweigeminute" rocketed it to the top of the chart.

'It seems like I've found the right words for this situation, which is no words at all.'

Haspel believes that this unexpected success conveys a simple message.

"The silent majority says no to the European refugee policy," he said.

The camp at Traiskirchen is run by ORS, a Swiss firm that has reportedly earned some 21 million euros ($23.8 million) from the camp over the last four years. It was originally designed to accommodate 1,800 people, but by the end of July its population had ballooned to some 4,500 men, women, and children. Roughly 1,500 of these people are sleeping outside of proper shelter in the middle of a sweltering summer, enduring rainstorms and temperatures of over 100 degrees Fahrenheit.

A tent and strollers on the premises of the refugee camp in Traiskirchen. (Photo by Roland Schlager/EPA)

Amnesty International, which visited Traiskirchen last week, called the treatment of refugees there "scandalous," highlighting the inadequate care of roughly 1,400 unaccompanied children, the use of buses as informal shelters, and the camp's sorely outmoded sanitary facilities. The United Nations has also decried the state of the camp as "inhumane."

The Austrian government declared earlier this month that it would stop he intake of new arrivals and manage the numbers by forcing other regions to meet quotas for sheltering asylum seekers, which local councils have opposed.

"I chose silence because the debate just gets louder and louder," Haspel said. He explained that he had conceived of the art piece as a "hack against the scandal-seeking of mainstream media, against the flood of images and news that is killing empathy" for the refugees.

"It seems like I've found the right words for this situation, which is no words at all," he remarked.

Asylum seekers sleeping outside on the ground at the refugee center in Traiskirchen. (Photo by Roland Schlager/EPA)

The piece has emerged as a sign of mass protest that resonates in Austria and the rest of Europe, as the continent grapples with the biggest migrant crisis since World War II. Record numbers of people fleeing war zones in places like Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya have flooded the borders of the European Union.

In Austria, the number of asylum requests rose above 28,300 between January and June alone — as many as were seen in all of 2014 — and officials expect the total this year to reach as high as 80,000.

Haspel's track is available for purchase on iTunes, Amazon, and Google Play — music platforms that retain 30 percent of proceeds from sales. Haspel hopes that the services will waive their fee for the sake of charity, but has promised to cover this shortfall with his own money if they do not.

"Every cent of the sale goes toward aid for people in the asylum processing center in Traiskirchen," he said.

Follow Andrea Maurer on Twitter: @an_maurer