Austria's policy 'improving business for smugglers'
With smuggling again on the rise in Austria and the government planning to build more anti-migrant fences, fears are increasing that the country could see a repeat of last summer’s tragedy when 71 smuggled refugees suffocated to death in the back of a truck.
Preparations to raise fences in the province of Burgenland along Austria's border with Hungary are already underway, with the first phrase of fences planned at the border crossings of Moschendorf and Heiligenbrunn and later at Heiligenkreuz und Nickelsdorf.
A regional police spokesman told the ORF that the measures were being taken following the experience in September and October last year when refugees made their way by foot from Hungary to Austria.
Meanwhile a border inspection centre and a barrier are being built at the Brenner border pass between Italy and Austria, with the Interior Ministry expecting many migrants and refugees to come via Italy following the closure of the West Balkans route.
The Ministry confirmed on Thursday that these measures at Brenner alone will cost around 1.1 million.
Migrant policy is "a trafficker promotion programme”
As the routes to central Europe have gradually been shut down, Austria has seen an increase in the number smuggling incidents.
Just last Monday 27 refugees - including 16 children and teenagers - were found in the back of a truck that had been pulled over for a police check near Rohrbach.
The smuggler - a 31-year-old Ukrainian - had handed over the driving to one of the refugees and already left the vehicle but was picked up by authorities a short while later.
The Federal Office of Crime have confirmed that smuggling is again on the rise, with the head of the office Gerald Tatzgern telling the ORF the smugglers are trying to find ways to bring migrants into Austria.
Speaking to The Local Austria, the head of Austria’s Red Cross Migration and Legal Affairs Bernhard Schneider says these smuggling incidents are a direct consequence of the closure of migrants routes for refugees.
“The closure of any migrant route leads without doubt to improved business for smugglers. With the closing of the borders - the west Balkan route or the building of control infrastructure at Brenner - refugees have no other possibility than to journey with smugglers,” Schneider said.
“Smugglers demand a lot of money and the routes they take are obviously illegal and therefore difficult, dangerous and lengthy. For these reasons the danger to smuggled refugees, either to their health or even to their lives, is clearly higher."
"Only at the end of August 2015 on the east motorway A4 in Austria was a refrigerated truck found with 71 dead refugees inside, including women and children.”
"You can therefore conclude that the policy of closing the asylum route is good business for smugglers and causes deaths. One must be clear about these consequences.”
Herbert Langthaler from Austria’s Asylkoordination, which provides legal support to refugees, agrees, describing European refugee politics as “something like a trafficker promotion programme”.
“If politics, police and army try to prevent refugees from coming in the country legally there is no other opportunity than to ask traffickers for the transport,” he said, speaking to the Local Austria
Many Austrian NGOs are instead calling for the government to introduce an effective legal route for people to travel to the EU to they can apply for international protection.
“Of course the protection of borders is a legitimate concern of governments and a responsibility of the state,” Schneider said. “But more important than the protection of borders is the protection of fleeing people.”