Waiting at Vienna train station: with photos taken by refugee children

All photos in this post are made by the children I traveled with, two 10-year-old boys and a 7-year-old girl. Observations are my own. Names of the family are changed to protect their privacy.

Vienna Hauptbahnhof: We sit on our bags against the wall, uncertain, waiting for word from the rest of our group.

14 year old Mahdi’s family didn’t get off the train in time and now we don’t know where they are, but he and 10-year-old Hassam are not worried; they check out the area, including the nearby tables which are full of food. There’s rice and sauce and cups with vegetable sticks. The boys make plates for themselves and volunteers stop by and offer us even more food while we eat. Volunteers offer fruit drinks and biscuits, different from what the kids are used to eating, but still tasty.

It’s not too long before Mahdi’s family arrives and everyone kisses in greeting. This separation was short and not so troubling in comparison to other parts of their journey. At last, the family is safe here in Vienna.

The alluring loudspeaker.

Sleeping arrangements for the night are uncertain. There are cots set up with blankets, but a man with a loudspeaker walks up and down the station, announcing in Arabic that everyone must go to Westbahnhof to sleep. Thankfully, there is an information table set up to coordinate refugees with Austrian volunteers who are willing to house them for the night.

14-year-old Mahdi’s uncle already lives in Vienna, so their family stays with him. 10 year old Hassam, his sister-in-law, uncle, and other young men from the village are all taken in by a kind couple, Melinda and Mischa. They only have eight beds, and there are ten in the group, but they are thankful to be sleeping indoors. It is the first night since leaving Syria that they sleep in a house. Their first chance to bathe in over 20 days. They are glad for this night of rest.

Morning comes too quickly and they leave Melinda’s home in a flurry, having made plans to meet Mahdi’s family at the main train station at 8 am. Sleep was cut short for a long day of waiting, in hopes that Hassam’s brother will arrive today. Hassam’s brother and another family of 5 were held back by the police in Hungary. There has been no word from them since they were arrested outside of Budapest two days ago. So we wait.

Portrait of me by 7 year old Amira

The children borrow the camera from me and take pictures of our group and people walking by. The kids are entertained by the never-ending stream of new people arriving; Austrians, Europeans, Syrians, and others from foreign lands.

The family claims a corner of cots hidden behind sheets hung over metal dividers, protecting them from the gaze of people passing by. The trains from Budapest are delayed, or perhaps they aren’t coming, but still the station is abuzz with activity.

Volunteers hurry to and fro. One stops and offers 7-year-old Amira a stuffed animal. She notices the bag full of toys the woman is carrying and motions that she’d like to look through the bag. The volunteer doesn’t mind and Amira looks through the toys until she finds the one she wants.

When the kids tire of the toys, they explore the station: the clothes tent does not disappoint. Hassam weaves in between boxes of clothes and shoes until he finds a box full of shoes his size. He triumphantly returns with a pair of black runners with blinking red lights and wheels on the bottom. These are nothing like the sandals he wore at home.

The hours blur into each other, as do lunch, dinner, and the endless supply of snacks in between. Evening falls. Still no sign of Hassam’s brother. We will stay one night more.