Hostility towards foreigners is now not just in the public realm but increasingly in the halls of power in Austria with dangerous consequences for refugees and immigrants.

Since the far-right Freedom Party has become a part of the Austrian government, the political climate in the country has changed drastically. 

Racist statements are the new normal, the country's police and judiciary are controlled by right-wing extremist politicians and Islamophobic policies are being enforced.

It's been obvious that refugees would be the very first victims of the far-right in Austria. 

Reportedly, anti-refugee sentiment increased sharply over the last few months. This is not just the case among society in general but especially in public offices and other government departments – places refugees are required to regularly visit.

According to Austrian daily Die Presse, there have been cases in which public officials made fun of asylum seekers when they shared their stories. There have also been cases where the stories of interviewed refugees were not believed, without any real reason. 

"She told me I could not be from Iraq because I look like someone from Romania," one Iraqi said.

According to Fardeen Rahimi, an Afghan refugee who lives in the city of Innsbruck, many asylum seekers feel the contempt of public officials. 

"We know that fascists are part in the government, and we can feel it. People like us are being dehumanised in public offices these days. This is a matter of fact," he told me. 

Rahimi arrived in Austria six years ago. His asylum request has been rejected by authorities three times. Although Rahimi worked and educated himself, he did not see an opportunity to stay in Austria until a lawyer took his case. 

"I had luck. Many others were deported. Especially when the new government came to power," he said. 

Rahimi's asylum requests were rejected when Austria's government consisted of a coalition between the Social Democrats and Conservatives, until last year.

Also during that time, a number of anti-refugee policies had been adopted. 

For example, Afghanistan – a country that was torn apart by war and chaos for decades – has been considered as a safe place to deport refugees. 

In October 2016, the EU signed a controversial refugee deal with Afghanistan's government. The deal included the deportation of an unlimited number of Afghan refugees and in exchange, Kabul's government was promised billions of dollars from the EU. 

Leading European states like Germany and Sweden started to build a narrative in which certain areas have been described as "safe". Austria did the same and began to deport Afghan refugees.

Repeatedly, politicians of the Freedom Party made their intention clear and claimed that the country needs to become "safer" by deporting "criminal refugees". One step forward was to make deportations easier and unexpected. 

"They appear out of nowhere in the middle of the night, put you into an airplane and you are gone", Rahimi told me. 

During the last months, several friends of his have been deported. Most of them were young men suffering from trauma from war or due to their perilous journey to Europe. Many people he knows are still on the run and hide from authorities.

But not all have been successful.

"I was very desperate, so I accepted to be deported voluntarily," said Noor ul-Hadi, who now lives in the city of Jalalabad in Afghanistan's east. 

He reached Europe in late summer 2015 when many refugees from Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and others headed to Europe. Noor ul-Hadi left his family behind and was severely traumatised from war. 

Several relatives of his were killed and his remote village in Nangarhar was under total insurgent control. Today, Islamic State militants took over large parts of the village while Noor ul-Hadi lives with his mother and his sister. 

His deportation took place last August. 

"I repeatedly told the authorities that my life was in danger. They didn't care", he said. 

Apparently, Austrian authorities also ignored Noor ul-Hadi's PTSD although he had several diagnoses from local psychiatrists. He believes that the rejection of his asylum request was connected with the country's swing to the right. 

"We are refugees but we are not stupid. I felt that public officials did not take me seriously, some even showed their happiness about the new fascist government", he told me.

Today, Jalalabad is one of the most dangerous provinces in Afghanistan. But the fact is that it is not just Jalalabad. War and carnage can be found throughout Afghanistan. According to the recent UNAMA report, at least 8,050 civilians had been killed or injured between January and September 2018.

I have witnessed all of what the refugees are claiming myself seven years ago, long before the total rise of the far-right, when I used to work as an interpreter for Afghan refugees. 

Sometimes, I witnessed public officials who expressed their racism and their right-wing views in front of me. 

"Enough of them. I cannot wait to finally have Chancellor Strache," one man once said, referring to the Freedom Party's leader and current Vice Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache, who is a blatant racist and Muslim-hater with a neo-Nazi past.

I still do such work voluntarily, often assisting friends and relatives to public offices, and the ignorance and racism I face there is more than shocking. 

This is not just the case in Austria, but also in Germany, where the right-wing Alternative for Germany is on the rise too. 

For that reason, too many people believe that they are now free to be openly racist, and it doesn't seem to be coming to an end any time soon. 

Disclaimer: The viewpoints expressed by the authors do not necessarily reflect the opinions, viewpoints and editorial policies of TRT World.

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