February 16, 2016 / 8:34 AM / 2 years ago

Austria to strengthen border checks to channel migrant flow

VIENNA (Reuters) - Migrants avoiding Austria’s new border control point will not find easier routes elsewhere, Chancellor Werner Faymann told a news conference on Tuesday, because countries along the migration route had coordinated a “domino effect” of border restrictions.

Migrants stay in queue during heavy snowfall before passing Austrian-German border in Wegscheid in Austria, near Passau November 22, 2015. REUTERS/Michael Dalder

Hundreds of thousands of people have gone through Austria’s Spielfeld crossing with Slovenia on their way from the Balkans towards Germany, many of them Syrian refugees, since the two countries threw open their borders to them in September.

Both countries have taken a similar number of asylum seekers in proportion to their populations, a much larger share than most in Europe but still a far smaller burden than Syria’s neighbors Lebanon and Jordan.

Austria has already said it will halve asylum applications from 2015, and last week Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz told Macedonia to be ready to “completely stop” the flow of migrants across its southern border, adding that Austria would soon do the same.

“The domino effect along the Balkan route is developing according to plan,” Interior Minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner was quoted as saying by Austrian newspaper Kurier.

Austria is determined not to let the end of its open-door policy at Spielfeld mean travelers can simply divert to other crossing points from Slovenia or Italy.

“We have issued an order to prepare the technical basis to be immediately able to introduce border controls at the Brenner crossing and at the Arnoldstein crossing,” Faymann said.

A fence at the Brenner pass, a cross between Austria and Italy, would be the first anti-migrant blockade on the border of a founding member of the European Union, and it would split the small town of about 2,000 inhabitants in two.

The newly built border-control management system at Spielfeld, which can handle several thousand people a day, is secured by a roughly four-km (2.5-mile) fence.

Austria temporarily imposed controls on trains carrying migrants through the Brenner pass last year during a Group of Seven summit in Germany. Hundreds of migrants had to camp out near Italian railway stations until the extra border security was suspended.

The highway that runs through the pass is one of the busiest commercial thoroughfares between Italy and northern Europe, though it was not clear whether Austria’s stepped-up controls would include the highway.

Reporting by Kirsti Knolle, additional reporting by Steve Scherer, editing by Larry King

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