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Austria defends border checks amid migration crisis

Monday, 31 August 2015

Austria has denied that it is in violation of the European Union’s open-border policy, after it tightened up controls in the face of the growing migration crisis.

Queues built up on the M1 motorway in Hungary leading to Austria, which also shares borders on its eastern side with Slovakia, Slovenia and the Czech Republic.

The measure, which was put in place late on Sunday, involves increased controls on traffic in Burgenland state which will be carried out in close collaboration with the Hungarian, Slovakian and German authorities.

The bodies of 71 refugees were discovered in Austria last week in an abandoned lorry that had travelled through Hungary.

“The main aim is to target smuggling gangs. What is happening here are controls conducted by traffic police and security forces – these are not border controls,” said police spokesman Helmut Marban.

The Austrian interior ministry said on Monday that around 200 asylum seekers had been stopped and five people traffickers arrested as part of the operation.

Konrad Kogler, director general for public security at the ministry, said: “In the hours since we started implementing these measures that we agreed with Germany, Hungary and Slovakia, we have been able to get more than 200 refugees out of such vehicles and we have been able to detain five smugglers.”

The Austrian interior minister, Johanna Mikl-Leitner, speaking at the same news conference, said the checks along the Austrian border were not classic border controls. “We are not in violation of Schengen,” she said, referring to the EU’s open-border agreement.

EU interior and justice ministers are to meet on 14 September in an effort to agree on measures to address the escalating crisis.

However, there are differences over how to respond. In an interview with French radio on Sunday morning, the French foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, criticised “scandalous” eastern European member states for opposing a quota system for a fairer distribution of refugees and asylum seekers across the EU.

He did not single out particular countries but went on to say Hungary’s new 110-mile razor-wire barrier, which runs the length of its border with Serbia, does “not respect Europe’s common values”.

Hungary’s foreign minister, Péter Szijjártó, said he would summon a French embassy representative over Fabius’s “shocking and groundless judgments”.

“It appears that certain people in Europe are still not capable of understanding what astonishing and dramatic pressure Hungary is under from migration via the western Balkans,” Szijjártó continued.

Around 150,000 migrants have crossed through Hungary this year, a third of them in the past month, most heading for Europe’s visa-free Schengen zone.

Over the weekend, Macedonia declared a state of emergency, sending troops to its southern border with Greece.

Germany, which issued a joint statement with Britain and France calling for the emergency EU summit, is said to be particularly keen to draw up a common list of “safe countries of origin”. Germany wants asylum seekers arriving from these countries to be swiftly returned in order to speed up its processing system to help more people genuinely in need. It said it expects to grant asylum to 800,000 people this year.

The presidency of the Council of the European Union, currently held by Luxembourg, said the “extraordinary justice and home affairs (JHA)” meeting will take place in a fortnight’s time in Brussels.

“The situation of migration phenomena outside and inside the European Union has recently taken unprecedented proportions,” the Luxembourg presidency said in a statement confirming the 14 September meeting.

“In order to assess the situation on the ground, the political actions under way and to discuss the next steps in order to strengthen the European response, the Luxembourg minister for immigration and asylum, Jean Asselborn, decided to convene an extraordinary JHA council.”

Britain’s Theresa May, France’s Bernard Cazeneuve and Germany’s Thomas de Maizière had earlier issued a joint statement after a summit in Paris, calling for the emergency meeting of ministers. The trio “emphasised the need to establish the so-called ‘hot spots’ to register and fingerprint the migrants and to identify those in clear need of international protection in Greece and Italy as soon as possible and at the latest by the end of the year.

“In addition a list of safe countries of origin should be set up as soon as possible in order to further develop the Common European Asylum System to provide protection for refugees and also to ensure effective returns for illegal migrants.”

Italy’s prime minister, Matteo Renzi, said on Sunday that the EU would eventually be forced to adopt one uniform set of rules for refugees. “It will take months, but we will have a single European policy on asylum, not as many policies as there are countries,” he told the Corriere della Sera.

Source: The Guardian

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