VIENNA – Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz on Thursday urged his Italian counterpart not to allow migrants arriving by boat to Italy's islands to travel on to the mainland, declaring that "being saved in the Mediterranean cannot be connected with a ticket to Central Europe."
After meeting with Italy's Angelino Alfano, Kurz told reporters that Austria expects an end to the practice of transporting migrants to the mainland by ferry. He said that if it continues, more migrants will make their way northward to other EU countries, "increasing overload for Central Europe," encouraging others to undertake the perilous journey from Northern Africa and further lining the pockets of human traffickers.
Kurz suggested instead that migrants be stopped at the EU's outer boundaries and returned after receiving humanitarian and medical help. He acknowledged that he and Alfano were "not yet agreed" but described the atmosphere of the talks as "reasonable" considering ongoing tensions between the two countries over the migrant issue.
Italy's government is alarmed over repeated warnings from Kurz and Austrian Interior Minister Wolfgang Sobotka that Austria is ready to shut the Brenner Pass should there be a marked increase in illegal migrant crossings there from Italy. With no signs of such developments and migration a top concern among Austrian voters, Italian politicians accuse the two of playing up the issue to increase the popularity of their center-right People's Party ahead of October general elections.
The Brenner Pass is one of the principal routes connecting Italy with northern Europe and is particularly heavily used during the summer vacation season. Austrian officials have said they are ready to deploy armored vehicles to the border crossing to prevent migrants reaching Austria.
Further fanning the dispute, Kurz declared that "we will protect our borders if Italy decides to wave more and more people toward the north."