Austria to Build Fence on Slovenia Border to Slow Flow of Migrants

Valentina Pop and Ruth Bender, Wall Street Journal, October 28, 2015

Austria said Wednesday it plans to build a fence at its main crossing with Slovenia in a bid to calm the chaos at its border and slow the stream of migrants headed to an increasingly frustrated Germany.

Officials described it as only a modest barrier meant to help control the flow, but Germany and top European Union officials have made clear they are opposed to fences, which they say will only exacerbate the problem and compromise cherished travel freedoms.

If built, it would be the first between two members of the Schengen passport-free zone of 26 European countries, adding to fears that the cornerstone policy will fall victim to a crisis that has overwhelmed borders and sparked disputes between neighbors.

Underlining the heightened tensions, Germany said Austria was waving migrants through the German border in recent days, often after dark, without warning or providing migrants with necessary supplies.

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And in a sign of a potential domino effect, Slovenian Prime Minister Miro Cerar said could start building a fence immediately with Croatia–which isn’t a member of the Schengen zone–if need be, but was still hopeful that new EU measures meant to stem the flow would work.

About 10,000 people have arrived daily in Austria from tiny Slovenia over the past week, as migrants bound mainly for Germany seek a new route after Hungary erected barb wire fences, on its southern borders with Croatia and Serbia, neither of which are in the Schengen zone.

Until now, Austria has carefully avoided the word fence, referring only to beefing up security.

“Of course it’s about a fence, but not just that, it’s also about fortified structures in the border crossing areas,” Austrian Interior Minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner told public ORF radio on Wednesday.

Chancellor Werner Faymann depicted the fence as just a “small door with side parts,” a system of just a few kilometers with barriers and shelters for refugees while they wait to cross into Austria.

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Last week at Spielfeld, on the Slovenian border, thousands of migrants broke through the police cordon and started walking on the highway.

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At a mini-summit of 11 European leaders on the Balkan route on Sunday, Slovenia and the countries further south on the migration route–Croatia, Serbia, Macedonia and Greece–agreed to set up shelter facilities for a total of 100,000 people, half of them in Greece, to avoid people freezing on the trail and to slow the influx.

At the Sunday summit, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said he was “just an observer” at the meeting, saying his country had solved the problem and offered to give advice to other countries on how to build fences.

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