Monday

15th Apr 2024

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

Get the EU news that really matters

Instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe 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.

Analysis

MEPs set to rubber-stamp new restrictive phase of EU asylum

The European Parliament is set to rubber stamp a new internal EU management system on asylum. Years in the making, the overhaul has been described as a game-changer by EU institutions determined to reach an agreement ahead of June's elections.

EU 'ready' to support Cyprus on Lebanon migration

The EU is ready to offer extra support to Cyprus as the Mediterranean island faces a sharp increase in refugees arriving from Lebanon, a spokesperson for the EU executive told reporters on Thursday (4 April).

EU 'ready' to support Cyprus on Lebanon migration

The EU is ready to offer extra support to Cyprus as the Mediterranean island faces a sharp increase in refugees arriving from Lebanon, a spokesperson for the EU executive told reporters on Thursday (4 April).

Latest News

  1. EU puts Sudan war and famine-risk back in spotlight
  2. EU to blacklist Israeli settlers, after new sanctions on Hamas
  3. Private fears of fairtrade activist for EU election campaign
  4. Brussels venue ditches far-right conference after public pressure
  5. How German police pulled the plug on a Gaza conference
  6. EU special summit, MEPs prep work, social agenda This WEEK
  7. EU leaders condemn Iran, urge Israeli restraint
  8. UK-EU deal on Gibraltar only 'weeks away'

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersJoin the Nordic Food Systems Takeover at COP28
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersHow women and men are affected differently by climate policy
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersArtist Jessie Kleemann at Nordic pavilion during UN climate summit COP28
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersCOP28: Gathering Nordic and global experts to put food and health on the agenda
  5. Friedrich Naumann FoundationPoems of Liberty – Call for Submission “Human Rights in Inhume War”: 250€ honorary fee for selected poems
  6. World BankWorld Bank report: How to create a future where the rewards of technology benefit all levels of society?

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Georgia Ministry of Foreign AffairsThis autumn Europalia arts festival is all about GEORGIA!
  2. UNOPSFostering health system resilience in fragile and conflict-affected countries
  3. European Citizen's InitiativeThe European Commission launches the ‘ImagineEU’ competition for secondary school students in the EU.
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic Region is stepping up its efforts to reduce food waste
  5. UNOPSUNOPS begins works under EU-funded project to repair schools in Ukraine
  6. Georgia Ministry of Foreign AffairsGeorgia effectively prevents sanctions evasion against Russia – confirm EU, UK, USA

Join EUobserver

EU news that matters

Join us