New task force to police Austria's border areas
A new border patrol team called Operation Fox seized two people smugglers and a family of six in Burgenland on Thursday, Interior Minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner (ÖVP) announced.
The task force has been set up in order to help police the current influx of refugees arriving across Austria’s borders. Several provincial governors have been calling for the introduction of temporary border patrols.
Mikl-Leitner said that Operation Fox had been active in the Neusiedl am See and Eisenstadt area, and had stopped and searched around 600 vehicles.
Two men aged 28 and 53 were arrested for people smuggling. They were found in a carpark near to the A4 motorway in Zurndorf. A Kosovan family was hidden in their station wagon, including three children aged two, three and six years old.
One of the men had been thrown out of Hungary for not having a residence permit and another was due to appear in court.
Mikl-Leitner said that Austria would not be introducing border controls across the country "in the coming weeks", but said that she could not rule out that it might happen at some point. She added that Austria must "accurately prepare and plan" for such a scenario.
Mikl-Leitner said a more effective strategy is "unannounced, hard to predict priority checks in border areas". She said it would be a long-term strategy that would initially focus on identified ‘hot spots’ as well as borders with woods and streams.
Operation Fox "is not directed against people seeking protection, but people who are trying to make money by smuggling others over the border," Interior Ministry spokesman Karl-Heinz Grundböck stressed.
Some 50 police officers were involved, including uniformed personnel with sniffer dogs as well as plain clothes police and human trafficking specialists. As well as being on the lookout for people smugglers they are also focussing on preventing evening burglaries.
"Currently, we have a lot of refugees from Syria, but also people from Eritrea, Somalia, Iraq and Afghanistan, who have handed over large sums of money to traffickers," Gerald Tatzgern, head of the central office combating human trafficking said.
Syrians are also being forced to hand over money, Tatzgern said, often between €5,000 and €15,000, but usually their preferred destinations are “Sweden, Norway and Germany”.
He added that traffickers often force families to be separated on the journey, to make sure they pay up.
Operation Fox had interpreters on hand on Thursday, to speak with the victims and try and find out any useful information.