Refugee Crisis

Border crossing chaos harks back to 80s

Border crossing chaos harks back to 80s
Police check vehicles at the border crossing between Salzburg and Freilassing. Photo: EPA
Honking cars with stressed drivers banked up for kilometres at an Austrian-German road crossing on Monday, hours after Berlin reimposed border checks to control a massive refugee influx.

Two German police officers checked the identity papers of the steady stream of drivers and passengers on a bridge where the morning traffic bottle-necked into a single lane.

“It's like being back in the 1980s,” complained one of the drivers caught up in the traffic jam, 71-year-old German pensioner Helmut Zimmermann. “I would never have imagined such poor organisation.”

Decades after most of Europe abolished internal border controls, Germany on Sunday installed impromptu checkpoints again, in a desperate bid to manage Europe's biggest wave of asylum-seekers since World War II.

Chancellor Angela Merkel's spokesman said on Monday that Germany is not slamming its doors shut to refugees but that the drastic measure was needed to bring some order to the asylum process.

The two police officers were checking papers and radioing to their colleagues further down the road which motorists to pull aside for closer questioning.

No refugees could be seen, either in vehicles or on foot, at the Freilassing border point early on Monday.

Zimmermann said he had crossed the border from his small German hometown of Piding in the morning, only to be caught up in the wait on the way back. “I always drive across to Austria to buy cigarettes and fill up on petrol,” because of the lower prices, he told AFP.

He welcomed the new controls, but not the way they were being carried out, grumbling that “it couldn't possibly work smoothly with just two police officers on that bridge”.

“I can't understand why they're doing it this way,” he said, having already waited for 45 minutes.

He also doubted the effort would work, pointing to what he called the “green border” of open fields and forests all around.

“For that, the 'green border' is far too porous,” he said. “In the past few days people have crossed here again and again. Just a few days ago my wife saw a few dark-skinned people come out of the forest.”

Also caught up in the traffic pileup was Rudolf Windhofer, a 56-year-old taxi driver from the Austrian city of Salzburg, who was taking school students across the border to Bavaria. “I've never waited this long, I've never seen anything like it,” he complained.

Having regularly driven the route for 12 years, he said, he was now losing money.

“During the extra time I need here I can't take any other fares, and the students are all going to be late,” he said.

The police, meanwhile, said the effort hadn't yet netted any people traffickers, after several were arrested the previous day. “We haven't seen any smugglers for hours,” said one of the officers, declining to give his name.

“They would be pretty stupid to still be arriving now. They would get a free one-way trip to prison”.