An Afghanistan refugee camp that's state-of-the-art

Some 400 Afghans live in Traiskirchen, a refugee camp outside Vienna, Austria. It looks more like an Ivy League campus than a center that's housed more than 1 million refugees over the past 50 years.

Patti McCracken
Children draw at the Traiskirchen refugee camp's staffed child center.

• A local, slice-of-life story from a Monitor correspondent.

A teenager lounges on the lawn surrounded by four new friends, all Afghans living at the Traiskirchen refugee camp, located about 15 miles outside Vienna. “I’m waiting to find out what will happen to me,” he says.

Traiskirchen is one of Europe’s primary asylum centers. During the past six decades, more than 1 million refugees have crossed through its gates. “It started with the Hungarian Revolution in 1956,” says Franz Schaubhuettl, a spokesman. “More than 200,000 Hungarian refugees flooded into Austria. [The government] didn’t know where to put everyone, so many of them were housed here.”

Traiskirchen is a sprawling, multi-acre facility that looks a lot more like an Ivy League campus than a refugee camp, complete with a state-of-the-art fitness center and health- and child-care staff. It began as a military academy, à la West Point. The Nazis made it a boarding school, and Russian soldiers billeted here throughout their 10-year postwar occupation. They hadn’t been gone more than a few months before the fleeing Hungarians arrived en masse.

During the Soviet era, some 10,000 asylum seekers showed up at Traiskirchen each year. Currently, the number hovers at just under 400.

The Bosnian war brought a new flow of refugees. “They sometimes knew each other from before; their kids played together. It was very tightknit,” says Mr. Schaubhuttl. “These days, it’s different. We have a lot of young, single Afghan men, and also Chechens, with too much time on their hands and no families.”

Skirmishes at Traiskirchen have made headlines in the past few years, and residents in the town of 16,000 blame rising crime rates on the refugees. The far-right Freedom Party wants it shut down.

For now, Traiskirchen remains a refuge. As James Michener wrote in “The Bridge at Andau,” about the Hungarian Revolution: “If I am ever required to be a refugee, I hope to make it to Austria.”

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