A billboard for August Penz, a candidate for city council in Innsbruck on the Austrian Freedom Party ticket. Photo: Antifa Netzwerk
“My plan: Patriotism, not thieving Moroccans.” This was the slogan a city council candidate plastered on 33 billboards in Innsbruck, the capital of Austria’s Tyrol region, late last month. After drawing the ire of Moroccan authorities, the billboards were taken down.
The billboards touted a candidate for the far-right Austrian Freedom Party, which, though it lost the local elections in Innsbruck this weekend, is gaining ground on the national stage. Its charismatic leader, Heinz-Christian Strache, had already caused a scandal earlier this year by saying that his party’s supporters were victims of “persecution” and that this made them the “new Jews.”
In Innsbruck, Prosecutors have opened an investigation into the billboard incident to determine whether the slogan was an “incitation to hatred.” The Moroccan embassy in Vienna called the billboards “defamatory and discriminatory” and said the Austrian Freedom Party’s goal was clearly to “win votes by disrespecting basic human rights.”
According to the local press, Innsbruck, a city of 120,000 residents, is only home to about a hundred Moroccan immigrants. However they have become a visible minority, as they are for the most part undocumented young men, many of whom live on the streets. Some of them, according to our Observers, make a living dealing drugs. Local social workers argue that these young men live outside the law because they have no other option: without papers, they cannot enter the workforce.
A Moroccan living in Innsbruck tells us what life is like there for him and his fellow countrymen.
“Many restaurants in Innsbruck might as well have signs on the doors that say ‘no dogs – or Moroccans’”
Radwan (not his real name), 30, is an undocumented immigrant from Morocco. He has lived in Innsbruck for the past year. He first immigrated to Europe in 2001, and has travelled through many EU countries looking for work.
Like most of the other Moroccan immigrants here, I’m young, uneducated, and have to earn my living illegally. But I’m not a thief. I wish people would stop looking at us and seeing thieves, or worse yet, murderers.The biggest problem for us is really with the police. They question us and frisk us every day, in the streets. Sometimes they push us around. It’s humiliating.The owners of many bars and restaurants, especially in the city centre, won’t let us in. If you try to go in, they’ll just tell you they can’t serve you, without giving any explanation, and there’s nothing to do but to leave – we don’t want any trouble. They might as well have signs on the doors that say “no dogs – or Moroccans.”I wasted my youth trying to make it in Europe. However I can’t go back to Morocco. My life is here now. My appeal for asylum has failed; I don’t really understand how the way the judicial system works here. Still, I hold out hope that one day I’ll be able to work here legally, and afford an apartment. During most of my time in Innsbruck, I’ve slept on the streets; recently, however, I have been able to sleep in a city shelter. It will be closing at the end of the month and will only reopen when the cold weather returns, so I’ll soon be back on the streets.
“People in Innsbruck generally have a very poor opinion of Moroccan immigrants”
Christof Gstrein spent the last decade working with young unaccompanied refugees in Austria’s Tyrol region, which led him to get to know Innsbruck’s Moroccan community very well. He recently took on a new role coordinating the region’s drug abuse recovery programmes.
Life for Moroccan immigrants was already difficult before these billboards were put up. So it doesn’t change much; it only confirmed what they already knewImmigration from Morocco is a recent phenomenon in Austria, and most of it is concentrated in Innsbruck – it’s close to the border with Italy, which is the immigrants’ point of arrival in Europe. However, there are still very few of them. Right now, there are about 40 or 50 Moroccans living in Innsbruck, with another 30 or so in local jails for dealing drugs.My former colleagues and I have long wanted to set up a programme to help them learn more German and give them a little work. That way those who are dealing drugs could stop, and people would grow to trust them more. This would also help them a lot on their way to obtaining legal residence. However, at present there seems to be little interest in funding such programmes.
The syntax of the billboard's slogan (see top photo), which rhymes in German, confused many people and quickly became the subject of jokes in Austria. Journalist Susanne Scholl tweeted a photo of herself wearing a T-shirt with a humorous interpretation of the slogan's meaning: "I'm Moroccan; please don't steal me!"