Austrian defence minister seeks new alliance to protect borders

Austrian defence minister seeks new alliance to protect borders
Refugees and migrants on an Italian Navy Ship. Photo: UNHCR/Francesco Malavolta
Austria’s Defence Minister Hans Peter Doskozil (SPÖ) has said he wants to forge a new military alliance and strengthen cooperation with countries along the so-called “Balkan route” to prevent migrants and refugees crossing Austria's border illegally.

“The western Balkan route is still not as closed as it should be,” Doskozil told the German newspaper Welt. There are “unfortunately still people-smuggling networks which are very active and a significant number of migrants”, he added.

He said that the EU’s deal with Turkey to tackle the migrant crisis is no longer reliable and that “we must be prepared in case the government in Ankara opens the floodgates again”.

According to Doskozil between 500 and 1,000 refugees and migrants are arriving in Austria every week. He said Austria is now cooperating closely with 15 other countries along the Balkan route as well as the Visegrad group (the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia).

“We are currently working on legislative amendments that would allow the government to deploy soldiers abroad, not just for humanitarian reasons,” he said, adding that Austrian troops could be sent within and outside the EU to help protect borders if necessary.

Doskozil said that the number of irregular migrants who are currently living within the EU illegally is “too high”.

EU leaders recently agreed on a plan to reduce the flow of migrants from Libya. Libya's UN-backed government will receive €200m, including funding to reinforce its coastguard.

In 2015 a record 90,000 people applied for asylum in Austria after hundreds of thousands of migrants transited the country, bound for Germany and elsewhere.