Sunday

19th Nov 2017

Austria says won't close border, still plans small fence

  • Migrants at the Spielfeld border-crossing point between Austria and Slovenia. Austria is "at its limits," president Fischer said. (Photo: Michael Gubi)

Austria tried on Wednesday (28 October) to alleviate concerns over its plan to erect a fence on its border with Slovenia, the first such plan between two Schengen countries.

In a phone call in the afternoon, Austrian chancellor Werner Fayman and European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker agreed that "fences have no place in Europe," the Commission said.

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"There is no fence with Hungary and no fence with Slovenia," Fayman said later on Austria's ORF TV channel.

"Whoever believes he will solve the issue of refugees with fences is getting it wrong," he added.

On Tuesday, his interior minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner said Austria would take "special building measures" to reinforce its border with Slovenia, where 3,000 to 8,000 migrants arrive each day.

On Wednesday, she repeated that "of course it is also about a fence", although it will not be "a fence all around Austria".

She said that the process of drawing up plans for technical barriers next to Spielfeld border-crossing point would take ten days.

"A barrier also has a door," she added.

In Brussels, an EU source said on Wednesday that the plans were for a reinforcement of the border to better manage and control the massive influx of people, not for a closing of the border.

"I would not dramatise" the issue, the source said.

On a visit to Kosovo's capital Pristina, Austrian president Heinz Fischer warned that his country was "at the limits of its capacities".

The arrival of tens of thousands of people "create massive organisational and logistical problems," he said, adding that Europe will have "to better control its external borders" and fairly share the burden.

In Slovenia, prime minister Miro Cerrar convened his national security council. He said that Slovenia was ready to use "all possible means" to face the situation, suggesting he could close the country's border with Croatia in the event that Austria closed its border with Slovenia.

Meanwhile, the influx of migrants from Austria to Germany continues.

5,000 people crossed the border in Passau, Bavaria on Wednesday, German police said during the night.

"Our Austrian colleagues are as overwhelmed as us," a police spokesman said.

On Tuesday, Bavaria's prime minister Horst Seehofer had threatened to close the border if Austria did not stop migrants from entering Germany.

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Hungary's Viktor Orban feels vindicated by a shift to the right in EU migration politics, but more populism and razor-wire fences could pose "a challenge" for the Union.

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