Austria’s Defense Minister Hans Peter Doskozil announced Saturday that the country will be sending soldiers to their border with Italy in preparation for an expected surge in the number of migrants seeking to pass through Austria on their way to northern Europe.
The border restrictions Austria put into place in February have stemmed the flow of migrants to Germany, but the country is prepared to tighten restrictions if needed. “As the EU external borders are not yet effectively protected, Austria will soon ramp up strict border controls,” said Doskozil. “That means massive border controls at the Brenner (pass), and with soldiers,” he told Die Welt newspaper.
As of yet, there is no decided limit on how many soldiers will be deployed to guard the Alpine pass. “From the state of Tyrol alone, there are three companies with 100 men each ready to deploy,” he told Oesterreich newspaper. “If we need more forces for border protection, we’ll get them.”
There are already a handful of troops at the border helping police handle migrants. Doskozil said the additional soldiers could help with migrant registrations, deportations, and of course border protection.
Along with his announcement to send troops to the border, the defense minister also reiterated his plea for a civil-military EU mission that would support the Frontex border agency where needed at the EU’s external borers – possibly in Bulgaria, Greece, or Italy.
When the main route through the Balkans and Austria was choked off in February, the number of refugees and migrants entering Germany by way of Austria dropped dramatically. Fewer than 5,000 were able to get through in March. Compare this to 64,700 in January and 38,570 in February.
Vienna believes, however, that new migrant routes will develop through Albania or Bulgaria as Mediterranean crossings from Libya to Italy resume.
Meanwhile, last year’s main migrant route across the Aegean Sea into Greece has been sealed off by a deal between Turkey and the EU. The deal, which takes effect Monday, aims to stop the flow of migrants to Europe in exchange for financial and political rewards for Ankara.
“We expect strong use to be made of the central Mediterranean route in the coming weeks,” explained Doskozil, adding that 5,000 refugees came through that way last week. “When the weather gets better, these numbers will increase strongly.”
German Chancellor Angela Merkel is under continuous pressure to stem the flow of migrants into Germany after the arrival of 1.1 million in 2015. She remains critical of the idea to increase border controls and hopes that the Turkey-EU deal is a success. The agreement requires Merkel to take in an additional 1,600 migrants, about 40 of which could arrive as early as Monday.
The deal also includes the deportation of a number of migrants back to Turkey. The safeguards for that procedure, however, are not yet in place.
Critics believe the deal may end up softening Europe’s stance towards Ankara when it comes to human rights, but something needs to be done. As Germany struggles with a new population that refuses to assimilate and integrate with the native population, the humanitarian crisis continues to sew discord and insecurity within the EU.