Austria has taken a hardened its security in the wake of the ongoing refugee crisis by sending additional forces to the Austrian-Italian border. The increased security is a response to clashes over the weekend between police and pro-refugee protesters in Germany, Austria, and Italy. Protestors are demanding an end to border controls, following the news that Austria will began implementing new border protection measures in the beginning of April.
Austria’s Defense Minister Hans Peter Deskozil in an interview with the German newspaper Die Welt noted, “As EU borders are not effectively protected, Austria will ramp up strict border controls. That means increased security at the Brenner Pass.”
The Brenner Pass is a route through the Alps connecting Innsbruck, Austria with Bolzano, Italy. It has historically been used for trade, but also an invasion route during times of war.
Refugees protestors from Italy marched towards the Italian-Austrian border wearing life jackets. They were met at the border by 100 Austrian police. The protest turned violent as refugees attempted to force their way past the police line by throwing stones and flares at officers. Austrian police responded with pepper spray, batons, and shields to push the crowd back.
The protestors claimed the demonstration was in response to Austria’s decision to tighten their border with Italy back in February. The border tightening made an immediate impact such as with refugee totals in February with 38,570 migrants, a near 50% drop from January’s total of 64,700.
In 2015, Austria received 85,500 applications for asylum third highest in Europe behind Hungary and Sweden.
Last spring and summer, the northern Italian town of Brenner also known as Brennero, which lies on the Austria-Italian border, was a major transit point for migrants arriving in southern Italy. Italy has already seen 15,000 migrants come through this year, which is a 50% increase from last year.
In January 2016, Austria temporarily suspended its agreement with the Schengen system, saying it would implement full border security measures to monitor those that entered the country. They also would only process 80 asylum applications per day. This drew widespread criticism from the neighboring German government who was on track to take in 1.1 million refugees.
EU Spokesperson, Margaritis Schinas stated that the stricter means Austria has placed on its borders does not violate the Schengen agreement.
The EU-Turkey deal could result in reducing the flow of refugees through the Balkan route but may result in opening up passage across the sea, into Italy and northern Europe. With the main migrant route from the Balkans to Austria largely closed, the number of migrants crossing from Austria into Germany fell seven fold in March and less than 5,000 refuges made it through.
Austria invited both Italy and Greece to a meeting last Thursday to discuss Austria’s decision to tighten its borders, but both countries chose not to attend. In contrast, neighboring countries Poland and the Czech Republic along with Hungary and Croatia expressed approval of Austria’s decision to tighten border controls.
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