• Austria's news in English
Police keep pressure on refugee numbers
Photo: Paul Gillingwater

Police keep pressure on refugee numbers

The Local/AFP · 15 Jul 2016, 07:05

Published: 15 Jul 2016 07:05 GMT+02:00

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Police officers in fluorescent jackets in the July sunshine stand at the border. They wave through the car with the bikes on the back, but the van with the tinted windows is pulled over and checked.

The "West Balkans route" that saw hundreds of thousands of migrants pass through Austria in 2015 is closed, and a deal between Turkey and the European Union has dramatically slowed the influx.

However, around 50,000 migrants remain stuck in Greece, and many are turning to alternative routes and to people smugglers to get them into western Europe -- hence the Austrian police activity.

Until recently, police were intercepting between 400 and 500 people sneaking into Austria every week. As of June 1, 4,073 had been intercepted, not much less than the 4,546 in the same period last year.

Authorities want in particular to prevent a repeat of last August when a truck carrying the decomposing bodies of 71 migrants was found on the side of the motorway -- a horrific low-point in last year's drama.

Since July 1, checks have even been stepped up, causing major traffic jams at this border -- a frontier within Europe's Schengen zone where until recently, goods and people could pass freely.

"The intensification was decided on when we realised that the number of migrants being intercepted reached the same level as last year," said Daniela Landauer, a local police spokeswoman.

"This was a sign that smuggler activity has not slowed down," Landauer told AFP.

'Inhumane' Hungary

One who made it through is Bashar, a 22-year-old Afghan, who spent several months in Athens before making it to Austria in June, but not before he was obliged to apply for asylum in Hungary.

"I am afraid they are going to send me back (to Hungary)," the young man told AFP by phone from an asylum centre in western Austria. According to EU rules, this is what should happen.

For now he can rest easy. An Austrian court ruled last September that refugees could not be sent back because of "inhumane conditions" in Hungary. And in any case Hungary refuses to take anybody back.

But this may change. Austria's centrist government, under pressure from a resurgent far-right, has for several weeks been pressing Prime Minister Viktor Orban's government to change its policy.

And at the same time, Vienna is making preparations to close its borders completely, including at the Brenner Pass on the frontier to Italy, another major entry point.

At Nickelsdorf, several dozen temporary office buildings -- so far completely empty -- have been put in place.

The closures are meant to kick into force once the number of migrants coming into Austria this year hits 37,500. At that point -- so far, 22,135 have entered -- Vienna has said it will turn people away.

To allow this to happen, Austria's abrasive new Interior Minister Wolfgang Sobotka is pressing for parliament to approve the necessary "emergency decree".

Story continues below…

Sobotka insists Austria has no other choice while "so many other European Union members fail to do their part" to stop the influx.

"We cannot shoulder the whole world's burden," he said earlier this year.

Neighbouring Hungary may yet save him the bother, however.

Since July 5 Hungary's police and army have been forcibly returning to Serbia any migrants found within eight kilometres (five miles) of the border -- prompting outrage from rights groups.

On Thursday Sobotka announced the dispatch of 20 Austrian police officers to help their Hungarian counterparts.

For more news from Austria, join us on Facebook and Twitter.

The Local/AFP (news.austria@thelocal.com)

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Today's headlines
Austrian far-right leader brands Merkel 'dangerous'
Heinz-Christian Strache. Photo: Facebook/Personal

The head of Austria's far-right Freedom Party has branded Angela Merkel Europe's most dangerous politician.

Austria 'horror clown' attacks leave several injured
Clown performers are not happy about the negative media stories. Photo: Graeme Maclean/Flickr

Several people have been injured in attacks by masked assailants dressed as 'creepy clowns' in the lead-up to Halloween.

Brunnenmarkt murder 'could have been prevented'
Locals remember the murdered woman. Photo: Wien Caritas

The random murder of a woman in Vienna could have been prevented if the homeless and mentally disturbed man who killed her had been admitted to a psychiatric institution.

Iraqi family ask ECJ to help them stay in Austria
Kumberg locals hold a vigil for the family. Photo: ORF

A group of people from Kumberg in Styria have asked the European Court of Justice (ECJ) for help in trying to stop the deportation of an Iraqi family.

The Local List
Five things you need to know about winter tyres
Photo: carmagazine.co.uk

It’s that time of year when temperatures start to plunge and drivers are advised to switch to winter tyres to avoid being caught out by snow and ice on the roads.

Radioactive uranium rocks on display in Austrian schools
Uraninite crystals. Photo: Rob Lavinsky, iRocks.com/Wikimedia

Education officials have carried out urgent checks in schools across the country after one of the stones on display in a classroom turned out to be radioactive.

Austrian churches slam far-right's 'God' slogan
Campaign poster for Norbert Hofer. Photo: Paul Gillingwater

Austrian church officials have denounced far-right presidential candidate Norbert Hofer for "instrumentalising" God in a new slogan.

'Scary clown' pushes 14-year-old off his bike in Salzburg
Generic photo: Graeme Maclean/Flickr

A 14-year-old boy in Salzburg has been injured after being pushed off his bike by an individual dressed as a scary clown.

Police puzzled by random stabbing of teenager in Vienna
Photo: Paul Gillingwater

A 15-year-old boy who was stabbed near his home in the Vienna district of Liesing on Friday morning by a complete stranger has spoken to the police.

'Sensational' 300-year-old Madonna found in Burgenland
The head of the statue was found beside the body. Photo: ORF

A 300-year-old statue of the Virgin Mary has been found hidden in a chapel next to a Catholic church in Loretto, Burgenland.

12 brilliant German words you won't find in English
Sponsored Article
Last chance to vote absentee in the US elections
Five films which will change your mind about Austrian cinema
Those surprising Austrians!
100 years since the last emperor's death
Afghani family's new home in Austria
Der you learn Deutsch?
Delighted by the light
Beware these passport scams
Of course we skipped Oarsch
Foodies rejoice at the choice!
Travel & Tourism
10 years after her escape from captivity
Surviving the Brexit for British expats
Day 2 of the World Bodypainting Festival 2016
Is Islam hostile to Western society?
Bodypainting festival in southern Austria
Europe's ice cream capital
Best Austrian beauty spots
Travel & Tourism
Three days in Vienna as a tourist
How to make friends in Austria
jobs available