Austria tightens border controls to stem flow of refugees and asylum seekers

Published February 22nd, 2016 - 05:00 GMT
Man holds a placard reading "Help Europe" as Syrian and Afghan refugees attend a protest to demand to travel to Germany on September 2, 2015 in Budapest. (AFP/File)
Man holds a placard reading "Help Europe" as Syrian and Afghan refugees attend a protest to demand to travel to Germany on September 2, 2015 in Budapest. (AFP/File)

Austria has decided to beef up security on its borders in order to curb the influx of refugees passing through the country.

The increase to 1,450 soldiers and reservists comes after Vienna said last week it would implement a plan to only let in 3,200 refugees a day, adding that it is also set to limit the number of asylum claims at 80 a day from Friday.

The troops will assist police carrying out checks on people and vehicles entering the country, patrol the "green border" and carry out surveillance work, the defense ministry added.

Also a company of military police based in Salzburg "will be held back to be able to handle violent persons or groups of persons and prevent them crossing the border," the ministry said.

"These forces will be able to deploy all over the country and be brought into action using army helicopters at short notice as the interior ministry requires," it said in a statement.

Austria's decision to cap the number of refugees received was taken despite EU warnings that the move runs contrary to the 28-nation bloc's law.

Last September, EU governments agreed to move 160,000 asylum seekers from front-line countries such as Italy and Greece to other countries across Europe over the next two years.

Austria last year took in 90,000 asylum seekers, making it one of the highest recipients in Europe on a per capita basis, while almost 10 times as many passed through, mostly heading to Germany and Sweden.

Faced with public unease and an increasingly popular far-right opposition, Chancellor Werner Faymann's centrist government last week imposed the new cap in an attempt to slash the number of asylum seekers this year to 37,500.

He stressed that his unilateral move was necessary because common efforts by the European Union to deal with the crisis "are not having the effect that they should be."

Austria's measures have also raised worries of a dangerous backlog of refugees through the western Balkans from Greece when the flow rises as expected again in the coming months as spring arrives.

The Austrian government has invited EU ministers to Vienna on Wednesday to exchange ideas on how to manage the crisis.

Most asylum seekers have tended to use Austria, a key place of transit in 2015, as a means of reaching Germany.

Some 1.1 million asylum seekers entered Germany last year.

Around 400 refugees entered Austria on Saturday, the day after the new cap entered into force.

Only a dozen applied for asylum, the others electing to travel onwards. Several hundred new arrivals were expected on Sunday, police said.

Europe is facing an unprecedented influx of refugees who are fleeing conflict-ridden zones in Africa and the Middle East, particularly Syria.

Many see Western support for the militants wreaking havoc in the region as the main reason behind the exodus as their policies have led to a surge in insurgency and war in those regions, forcing more people to flee their homes.

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