Monday

1st Mar 2021

Austrian police fear 'problems' if Germany slows refugee intake

  • Refugees crossing from Slovenia into Austria at Sentilj (Photo: Eszter Zalan)

Refugees and authorities on the Slovenia-Austria border seem interested in getting people through the new corridor into the EU as quickly as possible, amid thousands of fresh arrivals.

The crossing between Slovenia’s Sentilj and Austria’s Spielfeld, two sleepy towns less than a kilometre apart on either side of the border, has become the new flashpoint in the migrant crisis, after Hungary sealed its frontier withy Croatia over a week ago.

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  • Volunteers say goodbye to migrants, whom they befriended during the long wait to cross (Photo: Eszter Zalan)

Some 2,000 people seeking refuge in Europe were, on Sunday (25 October), herded towards the Austrian border by Slovenian riot police.

Carrying blankets and a few precious belongings, they walked impatiently toward cordons of Austrian officers, who sorted them into smaller groups to make it easier to board buses.

The buses take the people to camps across Austria, before they are transported onwards to Germany.

Local police told EUobserver some refugee families sleep on the freezing ground instead of in the four heated tents provided by Austria because they fear losing their place on the coach.

A few days ago, some refugees broke through a fence separating them from the buses.

The situation appeared more calm on Sunday, but Austria has deployed military vehicles to the site to keep order.

“The calm is always a question of how many places there are in the camps, right now the situation is under control,” said Wolfgang Braunsar, an Austrian police press officer in Spielfeld.

“If there are no free places, then it’s not easy,” he added.

New places in the Austrian camps come up only as fast as Germany is willing to take in people.

“If Germany does not let them in fast enough, we have a problem,” Braunsar said.

At Spielfeld, 350 policemen and 700 army personnel are trying to handle daily arrivals of 4,000 to 5,000 people.

“We seek humanity, freedom, independence. We seek Europe,” Fawzi, an English teacher in his 40s, who came with his 14 year-old daughter and with his wife from Baghdad, told this website.

“We didn’t have rights in Iraq - you’re only allowed to drink, eat, and sleep,” he said, explaining why he decided to leave.

His aim is to reach Sweden, where he has family and friends.

Meanwile, Bart, an Austrian volunteer who came to help with food supplies, noted the situation becomes hectic at night because people want to keep on moving instead of waiting around in the cold weather.

“More and more people come. It is their last chance to make it before the real winter comes,” he predcited.

“What will happen if more borders will be closes and people are left wandering around in the [old] minefields in Croatia?” he added.

The military presence on the Slovenian side of the crossing is more low key - there are armed guards at the migrant camps, but no vehicles.

There are large white tents, containing military beds, which can house up to 2,000 people, and more volunteers bringing food.

“This is like a five star hotel, compared to the other camp in Maribor, where Slovenia kept us like prisoners for two days, without food,” Omar, a Palestinian refugee from Damascus, noted.

Sentilj was the only crossing point into Austria until Friday, but volunteers said another one is opening up to the west, in the town of Jesenice.

“They are really grateful for everything, I have only seen sad and tired faces, but no incidents,” said Maja, a volunteer with the local Red Cross, who is trying to help people who got separated from their family members along the way.

A small store has also opened up in a van in the Sentilj camp.

The Kompas Shop used to serve tourists crossing here, but as the official border crossing is now closed, and some of the refugees have cash, the owners decided to move the van into the migrant settlement.

“They [the refugees] pay market prices, no problems here,” said Sara, as she unloadd new supplies for the shop.

“It is heavy though,” she added. “You see things you don’t really want to see, like babies and old people exhausted from the traveling.”

The shop sells canned beer, but it is not a big hit among the mostly Muslim refugees, for whom alcohol is forbidden.

“We have only sold five or six so far,” she noted.

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