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Austrian Chancellor: Fences will not solve the problem of refugees

30.10.2015 20:46
Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann (2015). (PHOTO:   Manfred Werner/Tsui)
Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann (2015). (PHOTO: Manfred Werner/Tsui)

The building of fences on borders is not the solution to the current refugee crisis. Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann made that statement during a debate televised by the ORF station on Wednesday evening.

Austrian Interior Minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner had announced earlier on Wednesday that Vienna is planning to build a fence on the part of its territory that lies on the border with Slovenia. For his part, Slovenian PM Miro Cerar also warned on Wednesday that his country is prepared to immediately build a fence on the border with Croatia should the EU plan to halt the influx of migrants through the Balkans fail.  

Faymann, however, said the Austrian building measures are not designed to restrict the influx of migrants into the country. "Anyone who believes the refugee question can be solved with fences is completely out of it," Faymann said.

In his view, the only actual solution to the problem is to end the conflict in Syria and create reception centers at the EU's external borders. Currently there is a need to mainly provide asylum-seekers on the so-called "Balkan Trail" with accommodation that will protect them from the incipient cold weather.

The fence discussed by Mikl-Leitner will just be a "construction measure", according to the Austrian Chancellor, that will make it possible to introduce "better controls" in the area near the town of Spielfeld on the Austrian-Slovenian border. Not one refugee fewer will enter the country as a result of the construction, Faymann pointed out.

Mikl-Leitner had also pointed out on Wednesday that the construction was primarily about "organizing the entry of asylum-seekers into our country, not about closing the borders." Faymann reportedly agreed with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker on Wednesday evening when they spoke by telephone and Juncker said "there is no place for such fences in Europe".

Thousands of migrants walked through Austria toward Germany during the early morning hours of 29 October. At least 5 000 people who were taken to the German border by Austrian buses from their reception camps on Slovenian border have since made it to the Passau area in Bavaria.

More than 4 000 migrants spent the night in the Styrian border community of Spielfeld and were to be transported to the German border by bus during the course of yesterday. Deutsche Presse-Agentur (DPA) reports that the asylum-seekers must frequently wait several hours in the cold and damp at the border, as Germany is currently suffering from a lack of buses to transport them to residential hotels in the German interior.

Only a matter of time before a child freezes to death 

Families with young children are huddled together as closely as they can be, wrapped in blankets and thermal film at the Austrian-German border. The cold and the damp at night are a hardship.

Roughly 2 500 refugees, including many nursing infants, wait for hours in a wet meadow at the border near the Bavarian town of Wegscheid beneath enormous searchlights. The temperature at this elevation of 700 meters above sea level is around 2 degrees Celsius, but the closer to the ground you are the lower the temperature is.

A small brook flowing nearby is generating a chilly sense of coldness and damp, the DPA reports. "It's just a question of time before the first child freezes to death here," says Lothar Venus of the Passau District Office.

Venus presumes that many of those waiting will have to spend the entire night outdoors in the cold. On the German side there are not enough buses to transport the asylum-seekers to residential hotels in Bavaria.

Ten buses should be arriving from Munich. That is only enough capacity for 600 people, however.

"What will 10 buses do with these numbers, we need 40 here to get these people inside rapidly!" Venus curses. He believes there is a danger that the refugees will soon decide to continue into Germany on their own.

To do so they would have to walk three kilometers along an unlit expressway and it would endanger their lives to do so in the dark. Two days ago, despite warnings from the Federal German Police, 1 000 refugees set out on that route.

German officials have been tasked with preventing that scenario from repeating itself during the night. They have managed to prevent it with the aid of entrepreneurs from Wegscheid who decided without hesitation to clear out a hall that they own and make it available as a temporary residential hotel.

One bus is going back and forth and will soon transport about 300 asylum-seekers from the meadow to the hall. After hours in the cold weather, they now at least have a roof over their heads.

The numbers of refugees waiting to cross are not declining at the border between the Bavarian town of Passau and the Austrian town of Achleiten. During Wednesday the Austrian authorities transported roughly 2 500 people there in 40 buses.

The Red Cross is giving them tea, vegetable soup, crackers and fruit. The blankets offered by volunteers were only being accepted by a few of the migrants, however.

The refugees were afraid to stop even for a moment because they don't want to waste valuable time by losing their place in line or risk being told to go to the back of the queue. Several hours later, though, they are regretting they did not take the blankets.

They are lying or sitting on the cold asphalt and freezing. Some are warming themselves before an open fire.

It will take several hours for them to reach the heated rooms of the temporary residential hotels in Germany. DPA says it remains an open question why the Austrians are transporting the masses of refugees to the German border so they arrive in the afternoon and evening instead of earlier in the day.

"Before noon we don't have a problem here, but in the early evening it's just one after another. Our Austrian colleagues are just as overburdened as we are," says Thomas Schweikl, the spokesperson for the Federal Police Inspection Authority in the Bavarian town of Freyung.    

ČTK, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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EU, refugee, Syria, war



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