Thousands of migrants and refugees are pushing their way north through Europe, and the countries they cross on their routes are scrambling to deal with the flows of people. Austria is the latest frontier in the crisis, where people — sometimes as many as 8,000 per day — are spilling over its borders with Slovenia. In response, Austria now plans to build a fence on this boundary.
Both Slovenia and Austria are EU countries and two of the 26-member Schengen zone, which calls for passport-free crossing among the member states. Other EU countries, most notably Hungary, have erected fences, but if Austria moves forward, it will be the first between two Schengen countries. Austrian officials, however, insist they are not trying to build a fence around the country, but trying to protect refugees from risky crossings. “It is not about generally closing off the border,” said an official with the Austrian Interior Ministry, “but we are trying to control the situation and ensuring the security with large numbers of people. We want to avoid escalation.”
Austria’s move, however, has created a chain reaction among other countries. Slovenia now says it’s “ready to put up the fence immediately” if migrants keep streaming through from Croatia, both of which are also in the Schengen zone.
Hungary, which already put up a razor-wire fence with Serbia in September and rushed to build another along its boundary with Croatia this month after migrants changed their routes, is extolling the effectiveness of its fences. However, the country’s closed borders are part of the reason why refugees are storming through Slovenia and Austria. Still, Hungary can’t help but gloat a bit, giving the other EU states the “I told you so,” especially after European leaders widely condemned Hungary — Austria included — for constructing those barriers. Now some of those former critics are backtracking and scrambling to put up their own controls.
Tensions are also now rising between usual besties Austria and Germany. German officials accuse Vienna of making the migrant crisis worse by shuttling busloads of refugees from the Slovenian border over to Germany — and dropping them there, often under the cover of darkness. Most migrants are desperate to reach Germany, and on the country’s border with Austria, in Bavaria, officials have seen more than 5,500 refugees arriving in one day.