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Austria-Slovenia Border Fence

Interior Minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner provided further details of the new security plan. The proposals would affect several southern border crossings, including the Brenner mountain pass and the Arnoldstein crossing between Italy and Austria. The plans are modeled on the Spielfeld border crossing between Slovenia and Austria where a processing center for migrants and a 4-kilometer long fence have been set up. Other fences - along with other crowd control measures - were planned further west at the Karawanks Tunnel crossing, which also borders Slovenia. Security would be tightened at nine other crossings on the Italian, Slovenian and Hungarian frontiers.

Austrian government officials said in October 2015 their planned border fence isn’t to prevent refugees from entering the country, but to bring order to the chaos. The Austrian government had taken the high moral road during this refugee crisis. When Hungary built a fence, Austria offered extra trains to speed them to shelter. While Serbia and Slovenia forced migrants to sleep without shelter, Austria built tents.

But now, the stream of migrants has overwhelmed the country. Austria is under immense pressure not only from its own population but from neighboring Bavaria to stop - or at least dramatically stem the flow - of asylum seekers.

Austria planned to build a 3.7km fence either side of its busiest border crossing with Slovenia. The move in mid-Novmeber 2015 was part of efforts to manage the flow of thousands of migrants a day on to Austria's territory, the general director of public security, Konrad Kogler, said on Friday. Measures will also include preparations for potentially building 25km of fence at short notice, Kogler said.

The announcement on 13 November 2015 came just two days after Slovenia began similar measures on its border with Croatia. Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann's chief of staff, Josef Ostermayer, said barbed wire would also be stored nearby, ready to install if necessary. "We are talking here about an ordered inflow and not a barrier," Ostermayer told reporters. Austrian Interior Minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner said the fence would be 2.2 meters high.

With local elections over, government officials in the ruling coalition are now suggesting perhaps a fence isn't such a bad idea. Except: it wouldn't be the kind Hungary built.

Interior Minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner raised the possiblity of a "European Fortress." She suggested Austria should erect "special construction measures" on the border with Slovenia. Now she has spelt out her plan in a bit more concretely, telling Austrian radio, "Naturally there will also be a fence." But, she added, unlike Hungary's razor-wire barrier.

In a statement, Mikl-Leitner said the fence would be "solid and stretch several kilometers left and right of the border crossing." Officials say it wil likely be about 15-kilometers long and cover both large and smaller green borders.

Although Mikl-Leitner did not state when construction would begin, it is understood that technical work would start immediately and should take about 10 days. The actual building of the barrier would take only a few days.

Chancellor Werner Faymann said it had not yet been decided whether a fence or containers would be used or, more likely, a combination of both. Containers would act as a waiting area, where new arrivals would receive medical help while they wait to be registered.

Austria's Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz, whose portfolio also includes integration, snapped at a reporter when she suggested that fences don't work. "If this theory were true, that you can't secure borders anywhere in the world, then I would ask myself why it does work in other places in the world. Then I would also ask myself, why the border between Turkey and Bulgaria works, where years ago a fence had been erected," he said. "The comment that they don't work is completely and utterly wrong."

German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere slammed Vienna’s handling of the refugee crisis. "The behavior of Austria in recent days was not right," de Maiziere told a news conference in Berlin, "We observed that refugees, without warning and after dark, were being driven to the German border without any provisions or forethought. There were intensive contacts."

Austria had become a major transit route for hundreds of thousands of migrants and refugees in recent months. Despite most of the migrants continuing their journey onto northern Europe, Austria expected a record 95,000 asylum claims in 2015, making it one of the highest recipients on a per capita basis.

Amid growing support for the far-right Freedom Party - which is currently leading in Austria's opinion polls - Faymann's government had come under growing pressure to stem the flow. Earlier in Novebmer, the Freedom Party sued three top Austrian officials - namely Faymann, Mikl-Leitner and Defense Minister Gerald Klug - for "failing to protect the country's borders" against the influx of migrants. The right-wing party also filed a lawsuit against rail officials on the charge of "human trafficking" for helping refugees travel from Austria's eastern border to Germany.

Austria completed the border fence with Slovenia in January 2016. The country has also rolled out a border management system that carefully screens passports and only allows refugees seeking asylum in Germany or Austria through. In the 1990s, Austria tore down its border fence with Slovenia.

On 15 January 2016, soldiers put the finishing touches on a new one. It is part of Austria's efforts to manage the large number of refugees who transit the country. Along with the fence, Austria is also perfecting a new border management system that will carefully screen passports and only allow refugees seeking asylum in Germany or Austria through.

"It's now running in a well-regulated, very orderly manner," said Manfred Komericky, deputy director of the police in the state of Styria. Komericky stood in a 3.5-hectare (8.65-acre) area with seven enormous tents. Nearby, workers are constructing a new border police center; the disused Cold War-era ones were torn down.

Eventually, Komericky said, the area would be able to hold up to 4,000 people at a time and be the sole intake area for Austria. For now, it takes in about 500 people per day, most driven to the site from Slovenia's border with Croatia.

Fritz Grundnig, a spokesman for Styria, said Austria needed the new border center because Germany turns back up to 200 people per day. As Austria perfects its system, that number should go down.

The new management system isn't designed to deny shelter to refugees, though Austria has now officially capped the number of asylum applications it will approve at 37,500 this year - after the country took in 90,000 people in 2015. Only refugees who do not have papers or who do not seek asylum in Austria or Germany are sent back to Slovenia. Nearly all the migrants passing through are from Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq.

"Upper limits are a political decision," Komericky said. "It's our duty to make the border control more efficient." But, he added, "we hope we will be able to reduce the numbers, too."

Austria's new management system is an attempt to bring order to the country's border after a year in which people crossed various frontiers on foot by the thousands. Each person first walks through a security screening, much like at an airport, only there are no metal detectors. All the checks are done by hand. Next, refugees queue at the 24 containers inside the largest tent for passport control. Each container houses work stations for two officials and one translater.

Passports are scrutinized for authenticity. Translaters also check to see if people's accents or dialects match the homeland listed on their papers. Only a small number of people are turned away for false papers or having no passport at all.

Once the weather improves, officials expected up to 5,000 people per day. The young soldiers who now are erecting the chainlink fence will remain in Spielfeld to assist the border police. If all continues as it is, Austria will reach its stated upper limit of 37,500 refugees by May 2016. When asked if they were prepared to deal with angry crowds, the soldiers said yes. They have all gone through crowd control training.

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Page last modified: 21-02-2016 20:08:49 ZULU