Switzerland has announced it is considering stationing a tank battalion at its southern border with Italy, after news that Austria is ready to completely shut down the Brenner Pass between Italy and Austria.
In a matter of just hours, Europe’s migrant crisis has escalated following the unexpected announcement Wednesday night by Austria’s Defense Minister Hans Peter Doskozil that his country is prepared to close its border if Italy does not get its migrant problem under control.
After Italy sharply criticized the Austrian plan, Switzerland has declared it is considering posting tanks to secure its own border with Italy. “We expect a significant increase in the number of refugees this summer. If Austria now closes off the Brenner Pass, Switzerland will become the only gateway to Northern Europe. Before that, we have to protect ourselves,” said Norman Gobbi, the security director of the Swiss Canton of Ticino.
The region has some 2,000 soldiers of the Swiss Tank Battalion at the ready, and they have been asked to postpone vacations in order to be available as needs may arise. As other migrant routes become more restricted or close altogether, Italy is becoming increasingly the path of choice for migrants coming both from the south and from the east. Heading north through Italy, if Austria no longer becomes an option, “many will then travel to Switzerland,” Gobbi said.
According to Gobbi, in the past week 169 refugees have crossed the border between Italy and Switzerland illegally. “The refugees mainly take routes outside of the official border crossings. We must prepare ourselves for a possible migrant onslaught,” said the security director.
During the first part of this year Italy has taken in 50 percent more refugees than during the same period in 2015, and the Italian government is forecasting the total number of migrants this year to be double that of last year. “This will not be without consequences for Switzerland,” said Gobbi.
“We have to go on the offensive,” said Austria’s Defense Minister Wednesday night, referring to tightened border controls.
By all accounts, Switzerland agrees.
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter Follow @tdwilliamsrome