Austria to build metal fence on Slovenia border
Austria will erect a 3.7-kilometre metal fence along its border with fellow EU member Slovenia to better manage a record influx of migrants, with barbed wire stored nearby ready to install if needed, Vienna said Friday.
The fence, due to be completed in less than six weeks, will be the first between two members of Europe’s passport-free Schengen zone.
“We are talking here about an ordered inflow and not a barrier,” Chancellor Werner Faymann’s chief of staff Josef Ostermayer told reporters.
Barbed wire will be stored in containers ready to be rolled out along the border if the situation escalates, Ostermayer told a news conference.
The mesh fence either side of the Spielfeld border crossing point in southern Austria will be 2.2 metres high.
The move came a day after EU President Donald Tusk warned that the bloc’s cherished Schengen open borders accord was on the brink of collapse as a result of fallout from the migration crisis.
“Saving Schengen is a race against time and we are determined to win that race,” Tusk said at the end of an EU-Africa summit in Malta.
Austria had initially planned to install a 25-kilometre fence but “our Slovenian colleagues have asked us to not do this immediately,” said Austrian Interior Minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner.
“They have offered to increase border security measures by erecting a fence to create a safety corridor and to reinforce police patrols on the Slovenian side to prevent (unofficial) border crossings.”
But Austrian authorities are ready to unfurl the entire 25-kilometre fence if Slovenia’s measures fail to control the flow, she stressed.
Both countries, which share a 330-kilometre border, have become a major transit route for hundreds of thousands of people heading through the Balkans bound for northern Europe this year.
Most travel onwards but Austria still expects a record 95,000 asylum claims this year, making it one of the highest recipients on a per capita basis.
Faymann’s fractious coalition government has also come under pressure to do more to stem the flow because of growing support for the far-right Freedom Party, which is leading opinion polls.
The announcement came just days after Slovenia began erecting razor wire along its frontier with non-Schengen Croatia, in a moved billed by Ljubljana as designed to help control the arrival of migrants.