An Austrian nomadic shepherd, inspired by his family’s persecution at the hands of the Nazis, is doing his best to help the asylum seekers flooding across the border.
Hans Breuer, Austria’s only nomadic shepherd, collected his first asylum seekers, a Palestinian-Syrian family, from the roadside in Hungary in early September.
A YouTube video showed Mr Breuer and the family singing a Yiddish folk song together as he drove them to the border.
He said his Jewish, and politically-active, father’s experiences during WWII meant he could not ignore the asylum seekers who crossed the border just a few kilometres from where his sheep grazed.
“When I see these young men from Syria – or from Afghanistan, Iraq, however – I see my young father, who was 18 years when he was first excluded because of his political engagement, excluded from all high schools in Vienna,” he said.
“Soon after, instead of studying music – he wanted to be a composer – he got out, on the 13th of March, [through] the last open frontier. That was the frontier to Italy.
“And then he went to [Switzerland] and then to England, and he was schlepping coal. So this is very, very similar to the life of many of these boys, young men, coming, so I see my father in them.”
Mr Breuer said many of the asylum seekers who crossed the border had little understanding of the official procedures involved in gaining asylum.
“They think they go to Germany and that’s fine, they go and stay there”.
“They think they go to Germany and that’s fine, they go and stay there,” he said.
“They put them in buses and leave them thinking that this bus will drive them to Vienna, to the train station or to Germany, and the buses do not go there.
“The police [who deal with them] like these sheep. And all what they do, since two weeks, three weeks, is to transport ‘sheep’.”
“They don’t know the word asylum – they don’t know what it is”.
Mr Breuer spoke to two young Iraqi men who had just crossed into Austria, who he said did not even know the word “asylum”.
“They don’t know the word, and they don’t know what it is,” he said.
“So, it’s very hard to explain [to] them that they will be forced to ask for asylum in Austria.
“If they refuse to give their fingerprints and to ask for asylum, they will be immediately sent back to Hungary with the next transport.”
Mr Breuer said he would like to drive the asylum seekers further into Austria so they could avoid official transport and make their own way to Germany.
But most of the asylum seekers have limited English and it was impossible to build the necessary trust with them.
Instead, after tending sheep for the day, Mr Breuer and his family load his old van with donations of food and drive to the border-crossing at Heiligenkreuz, near his home.
He said they say they would continue this routine as long as there were asylum seekers crossing the border.