Every escape route is closed, and the borders are fortified with the help of the army. Now every day the Austrian government announces new restrictive measures against the right to seek asylum.
Meeting in Vienna on Friday, representatives from central, eastern and southeastern European countries agreed to send soldiers to the E.U.’s external borders “given that Frontex cannot do it” by creating a new “civil and military mission” to the Greek border and anywhere else there’s an influx of refugees. The Visegrad countries were present, but Germany and Greece were not, apparently by choice.
“Given that the external borders are not efficiently protected,” said Austrian Interior Minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner, the country would have to act on its own. Other Austrian ministers vigorously reaffirmed the statement, announcing massive checks at the Brenner mountain pass at the Austrian-Italian border. The priority, they said, is “to ensure stability and security,” as if the masses of desperate people arriving at the border were a danger.
The decision to deploy troops marks a mutation for Defense Minister Hans Peter Doskozil, a former police officer who had showed a strong humanitarian commitment in his work along the Austria-Hungary border. Since rising to the Defense Ministry two months ago, however, he has become a prominent hardliner, taking positions that the Social Democrats previously had always refused.
“Citizens certainly understand, if there will be queues,” said Mikl-Leitner and Doskozil in harmony, referring to the flows of tourists at the Brenner Pass. The Austrian government believes that the E.U. agreement with Turkey will intensify the presence of migrants on the Mediterranean route. “We know that in the next few days the weather will improve and that hundreds of thousands of people take their journey,” says Mikl-Leitner. “In Turkey, on the border with Greece they expect 700,000 people. In Istanbul there are 400,000 people ready to start walking toward Bulgaria.”
The Austrian government reaffirmed its commitment to receiving only 37,500 refugees, vowing not to repeat what happened last year, when about 1 million refugees crossed into Austria and about 90,000 sought asylum there. Lawyers hired by the government have already declared the ceiling unconstitutional and a violation of the European Convention on Human Rights. But by armoring the Balkan route and sending troops to the Brenner Pass, the government may avoid the legal problem altogether — by not letting anyone in.
To think only a few months ago, the Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann, a Social Democrat, compared Victor Orban to Nazis for his militant position against refugees. “To those who suffer and flee inhumane situations, we have to open the borders,” he said. That Faymann spun 360 degrees and surrendered to popular nationalism.