Austria prepares for migrant influx at Italian border

Migrants wait to cross the Slovenian-Austrian border in Gornja Radgona last September. Photo: Jure Makovec/AFP

Migrants wait to cross the Slovenian-Austrian border in Gornja Radgona last September. Photo: Jure Makovec/AFP<br />

Austria sparked consternation in Rome on Tuesday with preliminary construction work at the Brenner pass in the Alps to prepare for a possible new influx of migrants coming north from Italy.

A police spokesman in Tyrol state told AFP that work started Tuesday on concrete foundations for a planned control area in a layby off the northbound motorway at the border.

“What is however not being built are additional border management elements, in other words a fence. There is no timeframe for when that will happen,” Stefan Eder said.

Vienna is concerned that following the closure earlier this year of the Balkan trail from Greece towards Austria, a new route across the sea from Libya to Italy and then northwards will open up.

Austria’s government, which wants to slash numbers claiming asylum in the country this year to 37,500 from last year’s 90,000, says it is planning additional measures at several border crossings from June 1.

Brenner is one of the main transport corridors between northern and southern Europe, with some 5,550 lorries passing through on a daily basis, and also has considerable symbolic importance.

“The construction of a barrier is a grave error which violates European rules,” Sandro Gozzi, Italy’s state secretary for European affairs and one of several senior Italian figures to have spoken out in recent days, said late Monday.

Arno Kompatscher, governor of the autonomous Italian province of South Tyrol, told the Repubblica daily that the Brenner is “a symbol of European unification, of social and economic well-being”.

Germany, which took in one million migrants last year, has also expressed concern. Deputy foreign minister Michael Roth last week warned against EU members taking “individual national measures”.

Austrian Interior Minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner, on a visit to Rome last Friday, said she would “do everything” to avoid having to close the Brenner pass.

“But steps must be taken. Amongst other things the Italian government has to ensure that all migrants are registered in hotspots and housed nearby,” Mikl-Leitner said.

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