With tens of thousands of asylum seekers overwhelming public institutions, couples like Skye and Zoltan Kiss are opening their homes
Skye and Zoltan Kiss found an unusual way to cope with our current influx of refugees: The two musicians from Australia and Hungary adopted a Syrian family of six – Hussam and Lula Hafi, and four children under ten.
With over 55,200 asylum applications filed in Austria so far this year, official institutions and NGOs have struggled to find room for everyone. Private spaces, like the former Kurier newspaper offices on Lindengasse, are now city-run processing centers. Caritas manages a camp at Westbahnhof. Elsewhere, private citizens have stepped in to fill the gap.
The Kisses and Hafis gathered for our interview in a garden in the 4th district. It was a happy picture: five children from two very different cultures, laughing on a swing. And a huge commitment. This was not the first either: A few weeks ago, the Kisses had taken in another refugee family. “I saw children sleeping on the street, it was horrible,” Skye Kiss remembered. “I couldn’t bear the thought. I said, I have to make up some beds. Especially with the weather getting colder.” But they didn’t stay.
With the Syrian refugees, Skye had some initial fears of how Muslim men might treat her. But then a friend called to ask if she would take in a family about to be shuttled to a camp; “ She said, ‘You have five minutes to decide!’ I couldn’t say no.”
The family’s home had been destroyed. One of their convoy of four rubber dinghies capsized. The first contact had been easy, Skye remembers. “They spoke a little English. They were really lovely. I brought them food. Hussam said I was like a sister.”
With Zoltan touring, Skye was soon exhausted from caring for them all, often spending fruitless hours between camps and registration centers, questioning what was going on. Then one day, the Hafis went missing, and the Kisses were devastated.
“Were they robbed, did someone take them, did we do something wrong?” now Zoltan can laugh. “You become parents, like family.”
Back with the Kiss Family
Then six days later, the Hafis reappeared. Unable to explain their situation to the police at their required review and had been put in detention. Zoltan was furious. “Hussam was in a cell, separated from his family. He didn’t see his kids. They took his phone.”
The Kisses and the Hafis are now emotionally connected. Some tensions arose as Hussam realized he couldn’t provide
a flat for his wife, whom he adores.
“Hussam was a bank manager. They had a nice life. To go from that to nothing? Now they are searching for that comfort of home.”
The Hafis finally got fingerprinted and registered, and are applying for asylum in Vienna and they are back with the Kisses, more grateful than ever for their provisional home. The tensions seem to have disappeared. What will happen to them all, however, remains uncertain.
In the meantime, the Kisses take pleasure in every baby step towards normality. “Privacy goes out the window in desperate times. Here, they have privacy. Lula is finally smiling again. And she loves Coca Cola,” says Skye laughing. Zoltan adds, “It helped me to wake up, to not be so Viennese, as it’s typically described in the travel books.”
From the garden we can hear little Eva Kiss, who already speaks English, Hungarian and German, calling out “Yalla! Yalla!” to her new Syrian siblings.
Private Refugee Aid Initiatives
These independent volunteer organizations are among the many private initiatives that emerged after the first trains entered Vienna.
Emergency aid for refugees at the Hauptbahnhof. Volunteers provide medical attention, food, clothing, shelter, and advice. See also p.38
Renate Hornstein and Sophie Pollak’s team help distribute donations and volunteers.
Enabling volunteer doctors and physicians to use their skills at the right time at the right place.
“We cook for refugees”
A long-standing organization improving the living conditions of unaccompanied young refugees in Austria.
These Facebook pages provide additional information on current charity events: