Austrian troops will carry out exercises preparing the nation’s border defence against a migration influx later this month after Balkans police warned 80,000 third-world migrants are heading towards Western Europe.With up to 1,000 police officers, soldiers, and riot police set to take part in June, the drill will be Austria’s largest ever border patrol exercise, according to Kronen Zeitung, Austria’s best-selling newspaper.
The announcement came following a security conference in Slovenia at which police chiefs from countries along the Balkans migration routes warned they had seen a significant upsurge in the number of border crossings.
Speaking after the conference, Federal Criminal Police Office (BK) director Franz Lang said that the situation in the Balkans is “critical”, with 80,000 asylum seekers currently making their way through the region towards Western Europe.
“Everyone [at the conference] concluded there was cause for concern,” he said, telling the Austria Press Agency that countries including Albania reported the number of migrant arrivals having more than doubled since this time last year.
“It is mostly young males travelling alone that police see on this ‘mosque route’, many of whom could be considered to be potential jihadists,” Lang added.
Interior Minister Herbert Kickl said the border drill will show the country is “serious” about stopping illegal immigration, stating: “We must be prepared for the possibility of sudden, huge migration flows,” in the event that fledgeling border forces in neighbouring Balkans nations lose control of the situation.
Units from the new border force, which has been named ‘Puma’, “will be positioned in such a way that ensures any applications for asylum will be a case for the Slovenians”, according to the Freedom Party (FPÖ) minister.
“There will be no waving people through and registering them,” he added, contrasting the “genuine defensive stance” on illegal immigration taken by the right wing government compared to that of its Social Democratic Party-led (SPÖ) predecessor.
On Friday, Austria’s conservative-populist governing coalition announced that it is to close seven extremist-linked mosques and expel dozens of foreign-funded imams as part of a plan to tackle radical Islam in the country.
Commenting on the measure, conservative People’s Party (ÖVP) chief and Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said that parallel societies “have no place in our country”, while FPÖ leader Heinz Christian Strache said the government would no longer “tolerate hate speech under the guise of a religion”.