VIENNA (Reuters) - Austria will build a 3.7-km (2.5-mile) fence either side of its busiest border crossing with Slovenia to help manage the flow of thousands of migrants a day onto its territory, senior officials said on Friday.
It was the latest move by a country on Europe’s main migratory corridor, stretching from Greece to Germany, to manage or curb the influx since hundreds of thousands started streaming into Austria and Germany two months ago, putting severe strain on the European Union’s prized system of open borders.
Slovenia began erecting its own razor-wire fence along parts of its frontier with Croatia on Wednesday, saying it aimed to assert better control over the migrant flow onto its soil that began shortly after Hungary built fences on its southern border to keep the marching crowds out.
Austria, the last stop on the way to Germany for migrants crossing the continent in numbers not seen since World War Two, has worried for weeks that its larger neighbor’s frontier restrictions will create a backlog it cannot manage.
At a news conference with other cabinet members and senior officials, Austrian Interior Minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner announced a series of measures that would be put in place near the Spielfeld border crossing in coordination with Slovenia.
Those included a fenced “security corridor” on Slovenian territory and enhanced patrols outside that area by the Slovenian security forces, she said.
Austria will also make preparations that will enable it to build a fence along a 25-km stretch of the border at 48 hours’ notice if needed, she said. A senior official said this would involve containers with razor wire ready to be deployed.
“This Phase 2 will come into force if the Slovenian measures do not work and it comes to illegal border crossings,” she said, adding that Austria would immediately strengthen its own patrols along the same 25-km stretch of frontier.
The Alpine republic’s general director of public security, Konrad Kogler, told reporters that a 3.7-km fence would be built either side of the Spielfeld crossing in the coming weeks. “That is what we have agreed,” he said.
Josef Ostermayer, a minister involved in policy on the migration crisis, said the fence would be around 2 meters (6.6 feet) high.
EU leaders agreed on Thursday to invite Turkey’s president to a summit soon to enlist his help in stemming the river of migrants into the EU from his country.
Austria said last month it would build barriers including a fence at Spielfeld to slow and discourage migrants.
The announcement set off a political storm, much of it over whether there would indeed be a fence - Chancellor Werner Faymann was highly critical of Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s decision to seal off Hungary’s southern border.
Faymann soon rowed back from the announcement, saying the plan had yet to be finalised and could involve something closer to a “gate with side parts”.
After discussions between Faymann’s Social Democratic Party and its coalition partner, Mikl-Leitner’s conservative People’s Party, ministers from both camps announced the plan on Friday.
“An Orbanisation of Austria is not taking place,” Defence Minister Gerald Klug, a Social Democrat, said, and the measures being introduced were necessary for “orderly, reasonable and humanely decent” crowd management.
Reporting by Francois Murphy; Editing by Mark Heinrich