Austria is joining forces with 15 other Eastern European countries to stem the flow of migrants northwards, as they believe the European Union (EU) has failed in its duty to protect the region’s borders.
Under the banner of the Balkan Frontier Defence Project, the countries will ensure that their police and military forces are in constant contact to ensure the vigilant protection of the national borders northwards of Greece, and repelling illegal immigrants from those borders.
Austrian Defence Minister Hans-Peter Doskozil (SPÖ), told Die Welt: “We do not believe that the EU’s external borders are adequately protected so far by the EU. That is why Austria, together with 15 other countries along the Balkan route and the Visegrád states, is planning a close cooperation in the framework of a new Balkan frontier defence project.
“If there is a mass influx of migrants, the states involved in the border protection initiative want to be able to act quickly. In the event of a crisis, we will work towards a common situation using clearly defined contacts and a regular exchange of information between the police and military heads of the countries involved.”
To strengthen Austria’s capacity to respond, the minister is also working on a change in the law which would allow the country to send troops abroad. Currently, Austrian troops can only be dispatched for humanitarian missions, but he said the government would like to widen their scope.
“Austria is ready to offer countries both inside and outside the EU, not only for humanitarian reasons but also for the protection of their borders, if these countries ask us to do so and we have sufficient capacities,” he said.
The moves are being made, Doskozil said, because the amount of illegal smuggling taking place in the Balkans and the number of migrants are both still “significant”. At present, between 500 and 1,000 migrants are arriving in Austria each week, but the minister said the situation could deteriorate rapidly at any time thanks to the fragile nature of the EU’s deal with Turkey.
“We must intensely prepare now for the [Turkish] government’s reopening of the sluices in Ankara, which President Erdoğan has already threatened several times to do,” Doskozil said, adding: “Erdoğan is not a reliable partner of the EU.”
He went on to criticise the current number of illegal migrants in the EU as “too high”, calling for much more to be done to bring down their numbers.
“Return centres, higher penalties for asylum seekers who violate the rules, and massive cuts in illegal immigrants’ money would all be appropriate means,” he suggested, calling for an “EU repatriation summit” to be convened to discuss co-ordinated action across Europe.
“The previous initiatives, such as the stronger role for Frontex in repatriation, are far from sufficient,” he said. “It would be best to have a European repatriation officer of rank and name, who could take on this important issue.”