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Austria ready for 100km border fence with Hungary

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Austria ready for 100km border fence with Hungary
J. Ott/Creative Commons
09:28 CEST+02:00
Austria has finished preparations for building a possible 100 kilometre fence along its eastern border with Hungary after securing permission from hundreds of private landowners in the region.

The fence is part of the country's efforts to prepare for a possible repeat of last summer when thousands of asylum seekers and migrants arrived to Europe every day.

Many arriving last year chose to make their way through the Balkans and into Austria and Germany, causing chaos at borders between various countries.

Following the closure of the so-called West Balkan route, strongly supported by Austria, the country has seen a significant drop in the number of asylum seekers arriving to the country.

According to the state-supported Hungarian news agency MTI, between 30 and 40 asylum seekers and migrants are estimated to cross the border into Austria every day.

Despite the lower numbers, Austria has introduced a number of measures in preparation for a potential repeat of last summer, including preparing to build fences along its border.

One 3.7 kilometre long fence already exists along a small section of the border with Slovenia.

Now a police spokesman in Burgenland, the Austrian state that borders Hungary, has told German press agency DPA that should the numbers of refugees increase again they would be able to quickly raise a fence. “It is ready,” the spokesperson said.

Most media reported the police have prepared for a fence as long as 100 km, although German newspaper Die Zeit reported it would just be 30 km long.  

Controversy at the border

Authorities have received permission to build the fence and patrol the area from hundreds of property owners, although they are not allowed on property owned by the local church after Bishop of Eisenstadt Ägidius Zsifkovics refused to give them permission on humanitarian grounds.

The question of migration and asylum has also been a thorny diplomatic issue between Austria and Hungary recently, with Hungary refusing to accept asylum seekers Austria wants to return under the Dublin II regulation. The regulation stipulates asylum seekers must apply for asylum in the first EU country they reach.

In recent weeks efforts to extend fences in Slovenia ran into difficulties after Austrians refused to allow the government build on their land.

Only around 40 percent of those affected have given police permission to build a fence on their land, many arguing it would damage the relationship with their Slovenian neighbours.

“Not once during the time of the Cold War or when the border between Carinthia and Yugoslavia burnt 25 years ago due to the struggle of freedom of the Slovenian defence against the People's Army, has a fence been necessary," Franz Sadjak from Bleiburg told the Kurier.

Stricter policies imposed

Alongside strengthening border protections, the government also introduced a cap of 37,500 on the number of asylum applications they are prepared to accept in 2016. It is a significant drop from 2015 when they accepted 90,000.

In addition, they passed a law earlier this year that would allow them to shut down the borders to nearly all asylum seekers if they deem the situation to be an emergency.

Interior Minister Wolfgang Sobotka has said that he would want to enforce the emergency measures before the 37,500 limit is reached. So far, the country has accepted around 22,000 applications.

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