Austria urges EU to send soldiers to Greece to police border

Frontex guards

Security personnel wearing Frontex armbands. [European Commission]

The European Union should send a team of soldiers and civilians to help police Greece’s frontiers because the bloc’s border agency Frontex is “too slow”, Austria’s defence minister said on Monday (21 March).

“In the past Frontex was responsible for securing the (EU’s external) borders but Frontex is too slow because of the way it operates,” Austrian Defence Minister Hans Peter Doskozil told a news conference during a two-day visit to neighbouring Slovenia.

“Therefore we suggest … finding joint solutions in cooperation with ministries of foreign affairs and internal affairs,” he said, without elaborating.

A spokesman later said the minister was proposing a “bridging mission” that would register migrants in Greece or repatriate them until Frontex was fully up to strength and able to implement as planned a new deal between the EU and Turkey that aims to stem the flow of migrants to Europe.

The EU has proposed a task force of some 4,000 staff under Frontex auspices that will include judges, interpreters and border guards to help Greece sift through thousands of asylum applications.

Greece is sheltering around 43,000 refugees and migrants and more continued to arrive on Monday despite the deal reached between the EU and Turkey at a special summit last Friday aimed at halting illegal migration flows into Europe.

Under that pact, Ankara will take back all migrants and refugees, including Syrians, who cross to Greece illegally by sea. In return, the EU will take in thousands of Syrian refugees directly from Turkey and make financial and political concessions to Ankara.

Stopgap measure

Clarifying Doskozil’s comments on a separate force, the Austrian spokesman for Doskozil said: “It would be … an EU military mission to implement the decisions of the (European) Council quickly.”

Under the EU-Turkey roadmap agreed last Friday, a plan must be made by March 25 and some 4,000 personnel — more than half from other European Union member states — deployed to the islands by next week.

“Frontex must hire 4,000 staff. One can imagine it will take a while before Frontex has that many staff,” he said.

“The minister is therefore saying ‘Why don’t we deploy the military to bridge the gap until Frontex is operational?’ If Frontex needs months before it is fully operational, that will help no one.”

Doskozil said the proposal would be discussed at a meeting of central European defence ministers in Vienna next week.

Last month Austria took the lead in coordinating a slew of border restrictions spanning the Balkans that have caused a worsening logjam of migrants stuck in Greece.

Vienna believes migrants will find new paths into central Europe following the closure of the Balkan route and therefore plans to strengthen controls on the Brenner border crossing between Austria and Italy, Doskozil said.

Greece asks for help

Greece asked its European partners on Monday for help as it struggles to effect the logistics operation needed to process asylum applications from hundreds of migrants still arriving daily along its shoreline.

“We must move very swiftly and in a coordinated manner over the next few days to get the best possible result,” Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said after meeting EU Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos in Athens.

“Assistance in human resources must come quickly.”

Avramopoulos said France, Germany and the Netherlands had already pledged logistics and personnel.

“We are at a crucial turning point … The management of the refugee crisis for Europe as a whole hinges on the progress and success of this agreement,” he said.

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