The Austrian military is preparing to stop migrants coming from Italy amid sharpening rhetoric ahead of elections.
Seven hundred and fifty soldiers, including Pandur armoured vehicles, stand ready to go to the Austrian-Italian border at 72 hours notice, Austria’s defence minister, Hanspeter Doskozil, told the Krone newspaper, an Austrian daily, on Monday (3 July).
“We need to prepare for migration developments in Italy, and I expect that, very soon, border controls will be activated and [military] assistance will be requested”, Doskozil said.
He added that the measure would be “indispensable if the inflow into Italy does not ease”.
Doskozil’s statement comes after Austria’s armed forces chief, Othmar Commenda, said that EU navies should intercept migrant boats coming from Libya and return people to safe zones in north Africa.
“From a military point of view, almost all of these refugee boats, which are heading towards Europe, can be intercepted,” he told the Krone newspaper on 20 June.
The military solutions are being discussed amid a surge in migrants from Africa to Italy.
The UN’s refugee agency, the UNHCR, said on Monday that 83,650 people have come to Italy this year – a 20 percent increase on the same period in 2016.
It said 70 percent of them were economic migrants with little chance of getting asylum.
The Italian, French, and German interior ministers held talks on the situation in Paris on Monday.
They decided to create a code of conduct for NGOs who rescued people at sea and took them to Italy and urged the EU to help secure Libya’s coasts and southern borders.
The military talk in Austria comes ahead of snap elections in October, with the far-right FPO party trying to put immigration centre stage.
“Let’s put an end to this policy of Islamisation as soon as possible,” FPO leader, Heinz-Christian Strache, said at a party meeting in Salzburg, Austria, on Monday, referring to the EU and Austria’s handling of the migration crisis.
He said Muslim migrants were “misogynistic, anti-liberal” and should “return to their Muslim country” if they did not accept Austrian values.