More than 20,000 people took part in a rally in Vienna on Saturday to show support for migrants and reject a recent upswing in support for Austria’s right-wing, anti-immigration Freedom Party (FPO).
Last month alone, about 200,000 refugees and migrants – many fleeing war in Syria – entered the nation of 8.5 million, fuelling support for the FPO in recent provincial elections and national polls.
Protesters marching towards parliament in central Vienna, who included students and families with children, held up posters reading “In with the refugees, out with the FPO” and “No walls around Europe”.
FPO leader Heinz-Christian Strache, who vows to protect what he calls Austria’s Christian and Western identity, is running for mayor of Vienna in an Oct. 11 election. The capital is traditionally a bastion of social democracy.
“We’re very worried about Strache doing well in the Vienna election,” said Christof, a 28-year old who works for the city of Vienna, wearing a badge with Strache’s face crossed out.
Strache has called for a fence to be built around Austria to stem the flow of migrants, many of whom pass through the country on their way to their preferred destination, Germany.
In September, only 9,000 people asked for asylum in Austria, with the rest looking to settle further north in Europe.
Concerned about the FPO’s gains, Conservative vice-Chancellor Reinhold Mitterlehner threatened to leave the national coalition government with the social democrats unless the government toughens its policies on migrants and the welfare state.