Austria prepares "massive" border controls in case of migration surge

Austria is planning to introduce significantly stricter controls along its entire southern border in case rising numbers of migrants arrive via the Balkans in the coming months, the government said Tuesday.

The preparations should enable authorities to react immediately if numbers go up, Chancellor Werner Faymann said as he announced the measures that marked a further step away from Austria's previous hospitable policy.

"We will therefore strengthen border control efforts in a massive way," he told reporters in Vienna.

The plans affect 12 border crossings with Hungary, Slovenia and Italy.

This includes the Brenner mountain pass, which connects Italy with Austria and which lies on one of Europe's busiest transport routes.

"There will be various measures including the construction of containers and additional border fences," Interior Minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner said at the Slovenian-Austrian border at Spielfeld.

The controls will also include the deployment of additional soldiers, as well as checks on people, vehicles and trains.

The contingency plans are modelled on the Spielfeld border crossing, where a processing centre for migrants and a 4-kilometre long fence have been set up.

"As long as there are no sustainable solutions on the EU's external borders we are forced to take measures on our own," she said.

The Austrian government has announced a series of steps in recent weeks to reduce immigration, arguing that there is a lack of solidarity among EU countries in distributing refugees, and that Greece is failing to control its sea border with Turkey.

These policies include an annual limit the refugee inflow to 37,500 this year, down from last year's 90,000, as well as daily limits.

Mikl-Leitner said she would announce on Wednesday on the number of asylum seekers that will be admitted per day.

The announcement of the daily limit has already had a ripple effect on the Balkan migration route.

Slovenia's Interior Ministry has reacted by announcing that it would only admit 1,000 arrivals per day from Croatia.

Last year, the Austrian government followed Germany's example and kept its borders open to nearly all of the arriving migrants and refugees, but public sentiment and strong poll ratings for the right-wing Freedom Party have caused a policy shift.

More than 1,200 migrants have been entering the country at Spielfeld per day in recent days. Faymann said he expects numbers to go up in April or May as weather conditions improve along the migration route.

Last update: Tue, 16/02/2016 - 20:03

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