An angry Italy summoned Austria's ambassador after the government in Vienna announced it was ready to re-introduce border controls and deploy troops and armored vehicles along the border to block any migrant influx out of Italy. Austrian Defence Minister Hans Peter Doskozil told Kronen Zeitung daily that troops could go to the Brenner Pass and that four Pandur armoured personnel carriers had been sent to the Tyrol region with 750 troops were on standby.
“We need to prepare for the migration development in Italy, and I expect very promptly that border controls will have to be activated and assistance requested,” Hans Peter Doskozil told the online edition of the Krone daily, adding that a military deployment at the busy Alpine pass would be "indispensable if the influx into Italy [across the Mediterranean] does not diminish". While Austria has border checks with Hungary and Slovenia, elsewhere - such as on the border with Italy - it adheres to the EU open borders system.
Doskozil explained that “these are not battle tanks. These are armored vehicles without weapons which could block roads. These were already used during the refugee crisis of 2015/16 at the Spielfeld border crossing [with Slovenia],” just in case Italy got the impression that its northern neighbor was preparing to invade.
The border controls will include the Alpine Brenner pass, which forms the border between Austria and Italy, one of the main mountain passes in the eastern Alps. There isn’t a strict time plan for the step-up in border security, but, according to Doskozil’s spokesman, “we see how the situation in Italy is becoming more acute and we have to be prepared to avoid a situation comparable to summer 2015” according to Reuters.
Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz said that Vienna is prepared to "protect" the frontier with Italy "if necessary," as he spoke with the Austria Press Agency. Later Italy's foreign ministry said it had summoned Austrian Ambassador Rene Pollitzer "following the Austrian government's statement about deploying troops to the Brenner (pass)".
The latest turmoil inside Europe's customs union comes two years after Germany admitted over a million mostly Syrian migrants, as part of Angela Merkel's "Open Door" (since shut) welcome, and just days after Italy's interior minister demanded other EU nations "step up" and relieve Italy of the sudden flood of inbound migrants.
The Italian governor of South Tyrol, Arno Kompatscher, sought to defuse tensions. According to BBC, he said Austria had issued similar warnings about the border previously, and the situation there remained "quiet and stable". Austria was gearing up for a general election in October, Mr Kompatscher noted. The anti-immigration Austrian Freedom Party (FPÖ) is expected to poll strongly.
People-smuggling gangs have been exploiting the violence and chaos in Libya. The shortest crossing from Libya to Italy is only about 460km (290 miles). Nearly 85,000 migrants and refugees arrived in Italy in the first half of this year, across the Mediterranean. The UN refugee agency UNHCR says that is about 20% more than in the first half of 2016.
To be sure, the UN joined Italy's appeal, with Vincent Cochetel, the UNHCR'S special envoy for the central Mediterranean, saying that “this is not sustainable. We need to have other countries joining Italy and sharing that responsibility." So far, nobody in the European "Union" has stepped up to "share the responsibility" of Europe's generous refugee acceptance program.
The latest report by the UNHCR, revealed another troubling statistics: few of the migrants coming to Europe will granted asylum: 30% of them are fleeing conflict or persecution, while 70% of those arriving in Italy are economic migrants. Most migrants and refugees are young, single men with little or no education, and almost 15% are unaccompanied minors.
Meanwhile, Italy has also warned that the current scale of migrant arrivals is unsustainable and that it could even close its ports and impound aid agencies' rescue ships. In other words, yet another refugee crisis in Europe is imminent.
It will be the second time this has happened in two years. In 2015, the EU's Schengen system, or the free movement across most European borders, was overwhelmed by an influx of migrants and refugees, whoe reached Central Europe via the Balkans, and most sought asylum in Germany. Since then, tighter border controls in the Balkans have reduced the numbers heading north from Greece. Most of the influx to Austria was via Hungary. Many of those who came by train or on foot were refugees from Syria, Iraq and other conflict zones.
So far 101,000 migrants have entered Europe in 2017 via the Mediterranean and according to the latest figures, 2,247 people have died or are missing at sea.