VIENNA – Austria, a strong critic of building of fences to keep out migrants, announced plans Wednesday to erect barriers along parts of its own border, but insisted the move was meant solely to bring order into the flow of people entering the country in search of a better life.
Slovenia, the main migrant entry point into Austria, also said it was ready to build a fence, threatening to set off a chain reaction from other countries along the land route used by those seeking a better life in prosperous EU nations.
Germany, the country of choice of many of the people fleeing regions torn by war and hardship, moved as well to reduce the migrant load. Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere announced that, while Syrian citizens are mostly accepted, many of the Afghans pouring into the country will likely be sent back to their homeland.
In Austria, Interior Minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner told parliament that construction of "technical barriers" would begin after about 10 days of planning but gave no exact date for the start of work on the project.
In separate comments to state broadcaster ORF, she spoke of the need for a "fence" to maintain public order. Defense Minister Gerald Klug said containers or railings could be set up to "be able to control the refugees in an orderly way."
Mikl-Leitner insisted that there were no plans "to build a fence around Austria." Still the project is likely to run into domestic and international criticism for the signal it sends to other nations struggling to cope with the migrant influx and because of associations with the razor-wire fence Hungary has built to keep migrants out — a move Austria strongly criticized.
Since the Hungarians sealed their borders a few weeks ago, thousands of migrants using the western Balkans route into Austria and beyond have been flowing into Croatia and then Slovenia daily.
Insisting that their small nation cannot cope with the influx, Slovenian officials suggested even before Austria's announcement Thursday that they too, are considering a fence, in their case on the border with Croatia.
Slovenian Prime Minister Miro Cerar firmed up those plans Wednesday, saying "if necessary, we are ready to put up the fence immediately," if a weekend plan by EU and Balkan leaders fails to stem the migrant surge.
In opposing fencing off border areas, Austria has invoked the principle of free movement within the EU's internal borders.
At the same time, its attempts to cope with the migrant influx have been complicated by recent moves by Germany — the country of choice of many migrants — to slow their entry from Austria
Mikl-Leitner acknowledged a possible effect on migrants in Slovenia if Austria builds barriers — a situation she said Austria already is struggling to deal with "because Germany is taking too few."