The number of asylum seekers is increasing throughout the EU, and illegal apprehensions are increasing, especially on the Balkan route. Vienna and Prague now want to forestall the gangs of people smugglers and are now introducing focused controls.
A Europe without border controls has not existed for a long time: in Austria, for example, police controls have been carried out at the internal Schengen borders with Hungary and Slovenia since September 2015. At that time, the great refugee movement had only just begun.
Since Thursday, 12:00 a.m., there has also been a focus on checks at the border crossings with Slovakia. Austria is thus reacting to the rapidly increasing number of asylum seekers and possible alternative routes for the smugglers, as Interior Minister Gerhard Karner (ÖVP) explained: “We have to react before the smugglers react.”
Which border crossings are affected and which vehicles are checked?
In accordance with the Schengen regulations, the controls will initially be introduced for ten days. The Ministry of the Interior said on Wednesday that controls would be carried out along the entire section of the border, but mainly along the main traffic routes. Karner said on ORF radio that primarily so-called tractor vehicles would be checked. “These are mostly white vans,” said the Minister of the Interior. Directly at the border, the EU fingerprint identification system can also be used to determine whether a person has already applied for asylum in another member state and can therefore be returned there.
Karner informed his Slovakian colleague Roman Mikulec about the planned measure by telephone on Tuesday. The Czech Republic also began checks at the borders with Slovakia on Thursday night due to the increased number of people smugglers.
Which nationals apply for asylum in Austria?
According to the Ministry of the Interior, 56,149 asylum applications were made from January to August 2022. Compared to the same period last year, this means an increase of 195 percent. Most of the applications are currently coming from Indian nationals. In general, there are more and more asylum applications from people who have no chance of asylum because of their country of origin, such as people from India, Pakistan, Morocco or Tunisia, it said.
What is the background to the current border controls?
The Ministry of the Interior told the “Presse” that Vienna must now introduce border controls with Slovakia because Prague is also taking this step: otherwise people who are turned away at the Slovakian border with the Czech Republic would take the route via western Slovakia take Lower Austria.
Migrants often enter Serbia via Belgrade Airport, where Indians, Tunisians and Moroccans, for example, enjoy visa-free travel. From there, they are transported via Hungary to Austria or Slovakia with the help of smugglers. At the border between Austria and Hungary – where, as is well known, controls have been taking place for years – the situation remains tense: 2,000 to 3,000 migrants are apprehended every week – almost as many as in the great flight year of 2015 – the Burgenland state government recently warned. The goal of many people is still Germany, where Interior Minister Nancy Faeser announced the need for talks with her counterparts in Serbia, Austria, Slovakia and the Czech Republic last week. It is therefore quite possible that the decision to close the borders was made at the instigation of Berlin.
How do you assess the situation across the EU?
After a significant drop in the number of asylum seekers at the peak of the pandemic, the EU Asylum Agency (EUAA) counted around 406,000 applications across the Union in the first half of 2022. This corresponds to an increase of 68 percent compared to the same period last year. According to the EUAA, Afghans, Syrians and Venezuelans make up the largest population groups among the applicants.
The volume of migration has been particularly high on the Balkan route in the last twelve months: the EU border protection agency Frontex assumes that illegal border crossings have tripled. One reason for this may be that many Syrians are heading west from Turkey because they are afraid of being deported back to their home country: The Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, is under pressure before the elections next year and wants to drastically reduce the number of refugees .