Austrian Catholics have suggested welcoming more refugees in the country in “gratitude” for the nation escaping the worst of COVID-19.

– With 600 deaths, Austria avoids toll of Germany, Italy

Director of the Caritas of the Graz-Seckau diocese, Herbert Beiglböck, president of Catholic Action in the state of Styria, Andrea Ederer, and diocesan integration officer Erich Hohl made the proposal April 29 just as Austria was planning to progressively ease coronavirus lockdowns from May 1.

With 15,538 infections and 600 deaths, Austria, a nation of some 8.8 million inhabitants, has so far avoided the high human toll the coronavirus has taken in neighbours Germany and Italy, for example, with 6,866 and 29,079 deaths in those countries respectively.

Like those neighbours and other European countries, however, Austria is facing the prospect of a severe economic recession, with the number of unemployed people in the country spiking in April to 571,477, an increase of 60% compared to one year ago.

– “How about taking in one at-risk person from a camp in Greece for every 100 people recovered?”

Despite the worrying economic outlook, the leaders of the Graz-Seckau diocese insisted citizens of the country had a lot to be thankful for, not least of all “the quick political decision” that saw the nation locked down early March “and the common action of the people” in abiding by social distancing measures.

Out of that gratefulness for having been spared the full brunt of COVID-19, “We think it is appropriate to send a message of gratitude now by taking in refugees in Austria”, Beiglböck, Ederer and Hohl explained.

The local Caritas, Catholic Action and diocesan representatives recalled that the Church has beautiful traditions in its history with regard to offering tangible signs of thanks after surviving dangerous personal and social situations.

“How about, for example, if we take in one at-risk person from a camp in Greece for every 100 people recovered?”, they asked.

As of this Monday, 13,316 people have recovered from the coronavirus in Austria, which would mean under Beiglböck, Ederer and Hohl’s proposal some 133 vulnerable people in the Greek migrant camps could enter the country.

– Greece transfers most vulnerable to mainland, unaccompanied minors still waiting on promises

The situation in the Greek migrant camps to which Beiglböck, Ederer and Hohl referred has been of grave concern for Church groups for the duration of the pandemic.

110,000 people are thought to be living in camps on the Greek mainland and islands, with some 19,300 in the Moria camp on Lesbos alone, six times the capacity of that facility.

The overcrowding and squalid conditions of the camps have led to fears that they could become a “bomb” of rapidly-spreading COVID-19 infections.

In response to an EU request, however, Greek authorities finally moved Sunday to transfer close to 400 of the most vulnerable refugees on Lesbos to facilities on the mainland.

“The goal is to transfer about 2,400 from island camps to mainland Greece”, a migration ministry official confirmed.

Those transfers come after a group of EU countries agreed in March to take in 1,600 unaccompanied minors from the camps.

To date, however, COVID-19 restrictions have meant that some of those nations are yet to follow through on their promise to take in those new arrivals.

More stories on Novena on the Church’s fight for refugees:

“It’s not because we want to go on vacation”: refugees speak out to challenge the stigma

EU Bishops cry: “The pandemic is no excuse to let human beings drown in the Mediterranean”

Vatican Migrants and Refugees Section warns of “cataclysmic” possible second wave of COVID-19 among world’s 65 million exiles

Coronavirus: Jesuit Refugee Service warns situation for asylum seekers on Lesbos a “health bomb”

Caritas denounces COVID-19 cases among refugees on Greek islands, pleads with EU for relocation of unaccompanied minors


Progressive Catholic journalist, author and educator. Working on social justice, equality and Church renewal.