May 22, 2016 / 7:57 PM / in 2 years

Austria sends more police to patrol Brenner border area

VIENNA (Reuters) - Austria is sending 80 more police and support staff to boost patrols around the Alpine Brenner pass and catch rising numbers of unregistered migrants coming in from Italy, Interior Minister Wolfgang Sobotka said on Sunday.

A car passes a street sign reading 'Austria' in the Italian village of Brenner on the Italian - Austrian boarder, March 3, 2016. REUTERS/Dominic Ebenbichler

He denied the move was in any way linked to presidential elections in Austria in which a far-right candidate was deadlocked with a former leader of the leftist Greens party, with postal ballots to decide the race.

“It appears that here and there migrants are getting through at the Brenner, sometimes none, other times five, seven or 10. There is a also small number of asylum requests that pop up,” Sobotka told reporters at an election event in Vienna.

“So we will step up appropriate measures in the overall Brenner area,” he said.

“Thirty officials from the Tyrol area supported by 50 officers from the rest of the country will start an intensive dragnet,” he added. “People are being stopped in regional trains, buses and cars.”

He said illegal crossings started to increase during the Pentecost holidays following a drop after he and his Italian counterpart met at the pass late last month.

The neighbors have tried to play down tensions that flared after Austria said it might reintroduce border controls at the Brenner pass if it was necessary to curb the flow of migrants.

Both Italy and Austria are members of the European Union’s Schengen open-border zone, but free movement has been jeopardized by the reimposition of controls at some key crossings by countries affected by an influx of migrants.

Any toughening of border controls at the Brenner Pass would slow traffic on an important route from Italy to Germany, Italy’s top trading partner.

Hundreds of thousands of migrants fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East and Africa have crossed the Mediterranean to Italy since 2014, and Austria has said Rome must stop them from traveling on toward northern Europe.

Reporting by Michael Shields; Editing by Tom Heneghan

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