Refugee-Helper? Into Jail! A Bavarian Justice-Scandal

Wolfgang Wurm can still not believe it. “Now I’m accused of very serious crime. I had to undress, was photographed from all sides”, the 47-year old Upper Austrian told the ORF-News “Zeit im Bild”. For hours, he was stuck in investigative custody, now he is implicated in penal procedures, threatened with 10 years of prison. Theoretically. In reality he may get away with two years.

His „crime“: He drove a refugee family two kilometers to the German border. There, he was arrested by Bavarian police – and accused of trafficking. Germany has been floating in a „Willkommenskultur“ for two weeks and celebrates the willingness to help, with which regular citizens meet the refugees. This awakening of civil society happened in Austria, too – with a small additional detail: Because Austria directly borders Hungary, there was a downright movement of people driving refugees from Hungary to Austria.

The true numbers are unknown, but surely Austrian citizens have moved thousands of refugees from Budapest, Györ, Röszke and other places to safety. They are conscious of the risks inherent in this. In Hungary they are threatened with penal procedures, in Austria these driving services over the border are – if there is no intention to profit off of it – just a minor infraction.

What nobody expected: The true danger of repression hails from Bavaria. Helpers that did not just bring refugees to the Vienna Eastern train station but over the Bavarian border are, in many cases, being prosecuted by the department of justice. There are several reports of activists that just wished to bring refugee families over the border, even heading directly for police stations, so they could apply for asylum at once – and were locked up immediately. What followed was the whole nine yards: Handcuffs, 48 hours of investigative custody in the rather harmless cases, release for bail and threat of two years of prison.

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But the Bavarian prisons seem to be overflowing with alleged traffickers – 713, the official number, are awaiting their lawsuit in custody. Even taxi drivers, who helped refugees for a solidarity fee or the local transportation tariff, were arrested in Bavaria. And this happened, mind you, at a time when refugees were brought over the border by special trains – and everybody applauded.

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