March 21, 2016 / 4:45 PM / in 3 years

Austria urges EU to send soldiers to Greece to police border

LJUBLJANA (Reuters) - The European Union should send a team of soldiers and civilians to help police Greece’s frontiers because the bloc’s border agency Frontex is “too slow”, Austria’s defense minister said on Monday.

A spokesman later said the minister, Hans Peter Doskozil, was proposing a “bridging mission” that would register migrants in Greece or repatriate them until Frontex was fully up to strength and able to implement as planned a new deal between the EU and Turkey that aims to stem the flow of migrants to Europe.

“In the past Frontex was responsible for securing the (EU’s external) borders but Frontex is too slow because of the way it operates,” Austrian Defense Minister Hans Peter Doskozil told a news conference during a two-day visit to neighboring Slovenia.

“Therefore we suggest ... finding joint solutions in cooperation with ministries of foreign affairs and internal affairs,” he said, without elaborating.

The EU has proposed a task force of some 4,000 staff under Frontex auspices that will include judges, interpreters and border guards to help Greece sift through thousands of asylum applications.

Greece is sheltering around 43,000 refugees and migrants and more continued to arrive on Monday despite the deal reached between the EU and Turkey at a special summit last Friday aimed at halting illegal migration flows into Europe.

Under that pact, Ankara will take back all migrants and refugees, including Syrians, who cross to Greece illegally by sea. In return, the EU will take in thousands of Syrian refugees directly from Turkey and make financial and political concessions to Ankara.

STOPGAP MEASURE

Clarifying Doskozil’s comments on a separate force, the Austrian spokesman for Doskozil said: “It would be ... an EU military mission to implement the decisions of the (European) Council quickly.”

“Frontex must hire 4,000 staff. One can imagine it will take a while before Frontex has that many staff,” he said.

“The minister is therefore saying ‘Why don’t we deploy the military to bridge the gap until Frontex is operational?’ If Frontex needs months before it is fully operational, that will help no one.”

Doskozil said the proposal would be discussed at a meeting of central European defense ministers in Vienna next week.

Last month Austria took the lead in coordinating a slew of border restrictions spanning the Balkans that have caused a worsening logjam of migrants stuck in Greece.

Vienna believes migrants will find new paths into central Europe following the closure of the Balkan route and therefore plans to strengthen controls on the Brenner border crossing between Austria and Italy, Doskozil said.

Additional reporting by Francois Murphy in Vienna; Editing by Adrian Croft and Gareth Jones

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