Thursday

20th Sep 2018

Austrian soldiers to stop migrants from Italy

  • Local authorities in Italy called Austria's move "unjustified". (Photo: Jurjen van Enter)

Austria is sending soldiers to stop migrants coming from Italy, while Bulgaria has said the EU should “defend” its borders by “force of arms”.

Austria said it would deploy 70 soldiers, but no armoured vehicles, at the Brenner Pass to Italy on Thursday (17 August).

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

It said between 700 and 1,000 migrants were entering the country from Italy each month, many of them on freight trains.

“It’s important not only to prevent illegal migration but, above all, to save human lives,” Helmut Tomac, an Austrian police chief, said on Wednesday, citing the fact that two migrants were found dead on a goods train last year.

Austria, Denmark, Germany, Norway, and Sweden have the European Commission’s blessing to impose temporary border checks despite being part of Schengen, the passport-free travel zone in Europe.

The military deployment is part of a wider EU migrant crackdown, including on its external borders.

Bulgaria said on Thursday that it would send 600 soldiers to stop people crossing from Turkey.

Krassimir Karakachanov, its defence minister, told Die Welt, a German newspaper, that this would include “highly specialised combat groups”.

"We cannot allow illegal migrants to come to Europe in large numbers,” he said, adding: “We should deploy Nato or EU forces in Italy and Greece and defend the external borders of the European Union by force of arms”.

Migrant routes

Italy and Greece are still the main route for asylum seekers and economic migrants trying to enter the EU.

Almost 96,500 people came to Italy by crossing the central Mediterranean from 1 January until 6 August, according to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), an international body based in Geneva.

Some 11,700 came to Greece via the eastern Mediterranean and 8,200 came to Spain.

The Greek route had been the main one, with 161,000 people last year.

But this was all-but closed by an EU deal with Turkey to stop people from sailing to Greek islands, creating extra pressure on Italy and Spain.

Italy saw 100,000 arrivals in the January to August period last year. The 2017 figure would have been higher, but a deal with Libya to stop migrants in Libyan waters and to chase away NGO rescue boats led to a recent drop-off in numbers.

The Spanish figure for this year is already three times higher than for last year.

Romania has also recorded a five-fold increase in irregular crossings compared to last year.

It caught more than 1,400 people trying to sneak into the country in the first half of this year, including a boat carrying 69 Iraqi migrants in the Black Sea last weekend.

Solidarity crisis

The Austrian military action has highlighted the lack of solidarity on immigration in the EU.

Local authorities in north-west Italy said the military deployment was “surprising and unjustified”.

Italian leader Paolo Gentiloni also urged the European Commission in a letter this week to mobilise “a greater European effort to face the migrant phenomenon, which has a structural dimension and concerns the entire European Union”.

EU states had agreed to relocate 160,000 asylum seekers from Italy and Greece over a two-year period.

They relocated just 20,000 or so, however.

The Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia have boycotted the scheme, prompting legal action by the Commission.

Austria and Bulgaria did not publicly boycott the quotas, but did so in effect. Austria, which was due to take 1,953 people, has taken in no one, while Bulgaria, which was due to take 1,302 people, took just 50 from Greece.

France and Germany, which have complained about the EU quota rebels, have also fallen far short of their commitments.

Germany was due to take 27,536 people, but took about 7,000. The French quota was 19,714, but France took about 4,000 people.

Human suffering

The EU border crackdown has been criticised on humanitarian grounds.

The IOM said at least 2,405 people had died trying to cross the Mediterranean to the EU so far this year, compared to 3,193 in the same period last year.

The majority of those coming to Greece were fleeing the war in Syria. Many of those coming via Libya to Italy had fled poverty, but faced torture and sexual violence in Libyan detention camps, according to charities such as the UK-based Save the Children.

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.

Opinion

Managing migration: a European responsibility

"The EU now needs to bring its weight to bear, to ensure non-EU countries cooperate on taking back their nationals arriving as economic migrants", writes migration commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos.

Opinion

Refugees in limbo on Greek island

Out of sight and out of space: a volunteer documents the conditions, and the state of limbo experienced by refugees on the Greek island of Chios.

EU promotes 'Egypt model' to reduce migrant numbers

EU council president Donald Tusk wants to discuss deepening relations with authoritarian Egypt, as a model of migrant reduction, with EU heads of state and government at a meeting in Salzburg, Austria on Wednesday.

Analysis

EU to shore up borders, returns and migrant detentions

The European Commission wants more border controls, detentions and returns for rejected asylum seekers. The harsh tone is part of a broader anti-migrant mood. "We are treated like rats," one asylum seeker stuck on a Greek island told this website.

Visual Data

Europeans also seek EU asylum

Every year, almost 100,000 Europeans seek asylum in EU countries. The number of applications continues to grow, but the issue remains on the margins of political debate.

News in Brief

  1. Greece to move asylum-seekers from overcrowded Lesbos camp
  2. Transatlantic soya trade soars due to trade wars
  3. EU tables strategy for connecting Europe and Asia
  4. Bulgaria backs Hungary in dispute with EU
  5. Trump urged Spain to build Sahara wall to stop migrants
  6. EU-Arab League summit proposed for February in Egypt
  7. Stop 'migration blame-game', Tusk tells EU leaders
  8. McDonald's Luxembourg tax deal 'compatible' with EU rules

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSThe Nordic gender effect goes international
  2. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSPaula Lehtomaki from Finland elected as the Council's first female Secretary General
  3. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSNordic design sets the stage at COP24, running a competition for sustainable chairs.
  4. Counter BalanceIn Kenya, a motorway funded by the European Investment Bank runs over roadside dwellers
  5. ACCACompany Law Package: Making the Best of Digital and Cross Border Mobility,
  6. IPHRCivil Society Worried About Shortcomings in EU-Kyrgyzstan Human Rights Dialogue
  7. UNESDAThe European Soft Drinks Industry Supports over 1.7 Million Jobs
  8. Mission of China to the EUJointly Building Belt and Road Initiative Leads to a Better Future for All
  9. IPHRCivil society asks PACE to appoint Rapporteur to probe issue of political prisoners in Azerbaijan
  10. ACCASocial Mobility – How Can We Increase Opportunities Through Training and Education?
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersEnergy Solutions for a Greener Tomorrow
  12. UNICEFWhat Kind of Europe Do Children Want? Unicef & Eurochild Launch Survey on the Europe Kids Want

Latest News

  1. EU divisions on menu at Salzburg dinner
  2. EU mulls action to prevent cattle suffering at Turkish border
  3. Safeguarding Schengen at Salzburg
  4. Denmark's image 'damaged' by bank scandal
  5. Real Brexit progress needed by October, Barnier says
  6. Poland to face EU top court on rule of law
  7. Austria's EU presidency: a bridge over troubled water?
  8. EU promotes 'Egypt model' to reduce migrant numbers

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Countries Take a Stand for Climate-Smart Energy Solutions
  2. Mission of China to the EUChina: Work Together for a Better Globalisation
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNordics Could Be First Carbon-Negative Region in World
  4. European Federation of Allergy and AirwaysLife Is Possible for Patients with Severe Asthma
  5. PKEE - Polish Energy AssociationCommon-Sense Approach Needed for EU Energy Reform
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region to Lead in Developing and Rolling Out 5G Network
  7. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Economic and Trade Relations Enjoy a Bright Future
  8. ACCAEmpowering Businesses to Engage with Sustainable Finance and the SDGs
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersCooperation in Nordic Electricity Market Considered World Class Model
  10. FIFAGreen Stadiums at the 2018 Fifa World Cup
  11. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Work Together to Promote Sustainable Development
  12. Counter BalanceEuropean Ombudsman Requests More Lending Transparency from European Investment Bank

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us