How the Result of the Austrian Election Will Affect My Life as a Refugee

The Freedom Party's motto is "Austrians deserve fairness," but its notion of fairness doesn't extend to people like me.

Oct 19 2017, 7:00pm

Photo courtesy of VICE Austria

This article originally appeared on VICE Austria.

On Sunday, October 15, 2017, Austria's conservative People's Party (ÖVP) won the country's general election with a little more than 31 percent of the vote—winning a total of 62 seats in parliament, and taking over from the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPÖ) as the largest party in Austria. Without an overall majority, the ÖVP—led by the 31-year-old Sebastian Kurz—is expected to form a coalition government with the far-right, anti-refugee Freedom Party (FPÖ), which won 27 percent of the vote.

Zakarya Ibrahem, a 27-year-old refugee from Damascus, Syria, is currently living in Austria. Over the past two years, the political science graduate has seen the Austrian attitude toward refugees change. Here, Ibrahem, an aspiring journalist who spent Sunday in our VICE Austria office to help cover election day, reacts to the country's tilt toward the right, and explains what it would mean for his future if the far-right FPÖ would enter the new Austrian government.

When I first arrived in Austria two years ago, I was so grateful to the country for the way its people made refugees like me feel welcome. But a lot has changed since then—looking around me, I feel Austrian society has grown more negative and hostile toward refugees. I'm really worried about what will happen if the FPÖ ends up in government. The far-right party has already promised to deport refugees, and I think that's exactly what it'll try to do. If it turns out the FPÖ can't actually do that, it'll surely pass laws to make our lives more difficult. During the party's campaign, the members made it clear that they planned on shrinking the amount refugees can receive in unemployment benefits—the only allowance the government gives us to support ourselves.

Of course, I had hoped the Social Democrats would have gotten more votes, but that wasn't the outcome of the election, and we should all respect that. I do envy Austrians for the fact that they get to be part of a democracy. In Syria, we lived under a dictatorship so I've never had the right to vote. I would absolutely love having the opportunity to shape the future of my country by voting or campaigning in an election.

Since the parliamentary election on Sunday, I've spoken to a lot of other refugees in Austria, who are all just as worried and sad about the outcome as I am. I think it's such a shame that our situation as refugees in this country was a central theme of the campaign, but we weren't allowed to participate in the debate at all.

Watch: 10 Questions You Always Wanted to Ask a Refugee Aid Worker

Either way, as long as we're here, most of us will continue to do whatever we can to contribute to Austrian society. I worry, though, that as hard as we may try, the anti-refugee propaganda will only make the FPÖ and its policies more popular. Many Austrians believe we are all economic migrants who moved to Austria just to get rich. That's just not true—my country is at war. If I'm sent back, I would have to join the Syrian military and fight in the war. Nobody wants to be ordered to kill people.

For me, it's not much of a problem if the government takes financial measures against us—like reducing our allowance. Even though it's the only money I receive, I'm sure I'll be able to find a job relatively soon. I'm 27, so it's easier for me to find work than it is for a 50-year-old refugee in Austria. I currently receive $974 a month, which will be cut to $654 if the FPÖ has its way. But setting yourself up in a new country is very expensive. For example, I recently had to pay $550 at once for the pre-college course created for non-German speakers. That left me in a huge financial hole, and I had to ask my friends to help me out with money. Asking for handouts is never easy, but given that it's for my future, it's a sacrifice I'm happy to make.

I have been granted asylum, but I don't know what will happen to me under an ÖVP and FPÖ government. There's a lot of uncertainty, but I know one thing for sure—on Sunday, my life got a little bit harder. The FPÖ's motto during the campaign was "Austrians deserve fairness," but its notion of fairness doesn't extend to people like me. Instead of alienating us, we should be part of the solution and given a chance to prove that we're ready and able to make a positive contribution to our adopted country.