The closure of the so-called Balkan route means refugees are now looking for alternative ways to reach Germany. Central European countries now want to work together better in order to coordinate their respective policies. EURACTIV.de reports.
The Brenner Pass between Austria and Italy, historically a crucial route between the two countries, was the venue for a standoff between riot police and pro-migration protestors on Sunday (3 April).
Demonstrators staged a symbolic crossing of the border and placards were seen demanding an end to “fortress Europe”. What started as a peaceful protest eventually turned ugly, as some of the demonstrators and Austrian police clashed.
Vienna’s increasingly hard line towards border controls is likely to widen the divide between with Berlin, as Germany continues its open door policy.
Austria has continued to act as a transit state for refugees headed for Germany, although the numbers have dropped during the winter months, and since the government introduced an annual limit.
The alpine republic is still processing people who have made an arduous land journey through Bulgaria, Romania and Hungary, though.
The situation on the Greek-Macedonian border has had a significant impact on border policies in the Western Balkans. An estimated 52,000 refugees currently wait in limbo in camps such as the now infamous Idomeni facility, prevented from heading north, through the region.
Vienna hosts Central European summit
To address the situation, Austrian Defence Minister Hans Peter Doskozil invited his counterparts from Central European states to a summit in Vienna. Ministers from the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Slovenia and Croatia attended while the invitation was extended to Poland, Serbia, Macedonia and Montenegro.
Better coordination and emergency measures were at the centre of the discussions.
The EU-Turkey deal was viewed with a great deal of scepticism before the summit. Doskozil said that “we expect strong use of the central Mediterranean route in the coming weeks”. So far, 14,600 refugees have already used this route, up 44% on the same period last year.
After the summit, Doskozil said that Austria would press the EU to create a new auxiliary force to help countries deal with any influx of migrants, at the next high level meeting on 18 April.
Austria has already shown that it is willing to deploy its military to its borders. In militarising its response to the refugee crisis, Vienna confirms its growing closeness with neighbouring Hungary, which has taken an exceptionally reactionary ideological line on asylum seekers.