People demonstrate April 3 against the Austrian government's planned reintroduction of border controls at the Brenner Pass in Austria. Austrian church leaders have criticized their government for rebuilding border controls in a bid to keep out refugees arriving from Greece and Italy. CNS photo/Courtesy of Jan Hetfleisch, EPA

Austrian Church leaders criticize government for new barriers at border

By  Jonathan Luxmoore, Catholic News Service
  • April 15, 2016

WARSAW, Poland – Austrian Church leaders criticized their government for rebuilding border controls in a bid to keep out refugees.

Construction began April 13 on road barriers and a registration hall at the Brenner Pass, the main route to Austria from Italy. It is expected to be completed by late May.

"We certainly face a significant challenge, but the answer cannot lie in saying goodbye to human rights," said Bishop Benno Elbs of Feldkirch, who heads the Austrian Church's Caritas agency. "Concerns and fears among parts of our population must be taken seriously and met with objective information. But people should fear the polarization of society, not the refugees."

The bishop said April 14 that it was essential that Austrians not stop "extending helping hands," adding that Pope Francis' planned weekend visit to a refugee camp on the Greek island of Lesbos would "clearly signal solidarity with people seeking protection."

A spokesman for Austria's Ecumenical Council, which includes the Catholic Church, said the frontier barriers risked becoming "a new symbol of division" in Europe.

"Refugees aren't enemies, but needy people seeking safety," the spokesman, Erich Leitenberger, told Austria's Kathpress news agency April 13.

"It isn't acceptable to leave the European Union's southern member-states, especially Greece and Italy, carrying this burden alone. The European project will fail if we don't co-operate."

Natasha Bertaud, spokeswoman for the EU's governing commission, said officials were "very concerned" about the new controls, adding that the Brenner Pass was "essential to freedom of movement" in Europe.

Church leaders on the Italian side of the pass also criticized the barriers.

Archbishop Francesco Moraglia of Venice, Italy, told Italy's La Repubblica daily April 8 that he regretted "the elites are manifestly unable to act together" in protecting refugees.

Bishop Ivo Muser of Bolzano-Bressanone, whose Italian diocese borders Austria, warned the refugee influx would last "not a few months, but years" and said a new assertion of national interests risked "building fences in heads and hearts."

"It's understandable there are fears, uncertainties and difficulties with this issue, but they shouldn't be used as a political tool," Muser said April 13.

"When individual countries pull back, leaving the common responsibility to just a few, these few cannot cope," he added. "Either we tackle this challenge as a community or we are doomed to fail."

Comments (0)

There are no comments posted here yet

Leave your comments

  1. Posting comment as a guest. Sign up or login to your account.
Attachments (0 / 3)
Share Your Location
Type the text presented in the image below

Support The Catholic Register

Unlike many other news websites, The Catholic Register has never charged readers for access to the news and information on our site. We want to keep our award-winning journalism as widely available as possible. But we need your help.

For more than 125 years, The Register has been a trusted source of faith based journalism. By making even a small donation you help ensure our future as an important voice in the Catholic Church. If you support the mission of Catholic journalism, please donate today. Thank you.