April 1, 2016 / 1:42 PM / 2 years ago

Austria says neighbors back plan for new EU border force

VIENNA (Reuters) - Austria and its neighbors in central Europe and the Balkans will press the European Union to create a new auxiliary force to help countries deal with any influx of migrants, Austria’s defense minister said on Friday.

Razor wire is seen in front of an EU sign during a protest against barbed wire fences along the border crossing between Slovenia and Croatia in Brezovica pri Gradinu, Slovenia December 19, 2015. REUTERS/Srdjan Zivulovic

Austria has suggested setting up a “bridging mission” that would help EU border agency Frontex process and deport migrants arriving in Greece from Turkey until Frontex is fully staffed there, which Vienna has said could take months.

Meeting defense and other officials from the region in Vienna on Thursday, Defence Minister Hans Peter Doskozil said those present backed a modified version of that concept, which could be sent to Greece or elsewhere.

“It is ... a mixed civil-police-military mission that should be deployed where necessary,” Doskozil said, adding the aim was to help secure the European Union’s external borders and deport migrants not entitled to stay in the bloc.

Austria has broken ranks with its neighbor Germany on how to deal with Europe’s migration crisis, coordinating a cascade of border restrictions through the Balkans that have left tens of thousands of migrants stuck in Greece.

Germany says it prefers common European measures, but Austria said it risked turning into a crowded “waiting room” if migrants had kept streaming across its territory towards Germany and its larger neighbor tightened its border controls further.

With the main migrant route through the Balkans and Austria now largely closed, Vienna says there is a risk that new routes will develop through Bulgaria or Albania, as Mediterranean crossings to Italy from Libya resume.

Greece, which is furious at the border restrictions coordinated by Austria, was invited to Thursday’s meeting but did not attend, Doskozil said. Italy was also not present.

Doskozil said those present - including EU members Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Croatia - would send a letter detailing the proposal to EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini ahead of an EU defense ministers’ meeting on April 19.

Reporting by Francois Murphy; Editing by Tom Heneghan

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