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5th Dec 2023

Austrian military set to stop Italy migrants

  • Austria threatened to build a 370-metre long fence at the Brenner pass last year (Photo: Alice Latta)

The Austrian military is preparing to stop migrants coming from Italy amid sharpening rhetoric ahead of elections.

Seven hundred and fifty soldiers, including Pandur armoured vehicles, stand ready to go to the Austrian-Italian border at 72 hours notice, Austria’s defence minister, Hanspeter Doskozil, told the Kronen Zeitung newspaper, an Austrian daily, on Monday (3 July).

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  • More than 80,000 people arrived in Italy this year (Photo: Josh Zakary)

"We need to prepare for migration developments in Italy, and I expect that, very soon, border controls will be activated and [military] assistance will be requested”, Doskozil said.

He added that the measure would be “indispensable if the inflow into Italy does not ease”.

Doskozil’s statement comes after Austria’s armed forces chief, Othmar Commenda, said that EU navies should intercept migrant boats coming from Libya and return people to safe zones in north Africa.

“From a military point of view, almost all of these refugee boats, which are heading towards Europe, can be intercepted,” he told the Kronen Zeitung newspaper on 20 June.

The military solutions are being discussed amid a surge in migrants from Africa to Italy.

The UN’s refugee agency, the UNHCR, said on Monday that 83,650 people have come to Italy this year - a 20 percent increase on the same period in 2016.

It said 70 percent of them were economic migrants with little chance of getting asylum.

The Italian, French, and German interior ministers held talks on the situation in Paris on Monday.

They decided to create a code of conduct for NGOs who rescued people at sea and took them to Italy and urged the EU to help secure Libya’s coasts and southern borders.

The military talk in Austria comes ahead of snap elections in October, with the far-right FPO party trying to put immigration centre stage.

“Let’s put an end to this policy of Islamisation as soon as possible,” FPO leader, Heinz-Christian Strache, said at a party meeting in Salzburg, Austria, on Monday, referring to the EU and Austria’s handling of the migration crisis.

He said Muslim migrants were “misogynistic, anti-liberal” and should “return to their Muslim country” if they did not accept Austrian values.

Chancellor Otto Kern, from the centre-left SPO party, said at a speech in the Vienna University of Technology, in Kern, Austria, the same day that the EU must ensure “sound protection of external borders”.

Sebastian Kurz, Austria’s foreign minister, who will challenge Kern on behalf of the centre-right OVP party, has called for the EU to “block” the central Mediterranean route.

Austria already imposed checks at the Brenner Pass, its crossing point from Italy, last year.

That move led irregular migrants to go in greater numbers to Switzerland in what Frontex, the EU border control agency, said at the time was “a diversification in routes and modi operandi”.

Austria and Hungary’s decision, in 2015, to seal borders to people coming to the EU via Greece saw a drastic fall in numbers on that route.

An EU deal with Turkey to keep Syrian refugees from going to Greece also led to that fall.

Fewer than 10,000 people have so far come to Greece this year, according to the International Migration Organisation, a Geneva-based body.

The Turkey pact included €3 billion in EU aid in 2016 and 2017 to help the almost 3 million refugees in Turkey, as well as faster EU-Turkey accession talks and visa-free travel.

The accession and visa moves have stalled due to the Turkish president’s authoritarianism.

But Guenther Oettinger, the EU budget commissioner, told Die Welt, a German newspaper, also on Monday that the deal should be extended with another €3 billion pledge.

"I am in favour of deciding a follow-up agreement between the EU and Turkey for the coming years,” he said.

"A significant part of this money should come from the EU budget," he said.

Austria heading for snap elections

Foreign minister Kurz has taken leadership of the conservative party in what could lead to an alliance with the far-right.

Italy imposing new rules on NGO sea rescues

Italy is set to unveil a "code of conduct" for NGOs, while interior ministers from all 28 EU states meet later this week to discuss rescue operations in the Mediterranean.

Austria readies for migrant border surge

Foreign ministers in Brussels agreed to toughen up measures against Libyan migrant smugglers amid Austrian claims it is ready to "protect" its borders from any sudden mass migrant movements from Italy.

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