Austria deployed soldiers to the border with Hungary Monday to stem the flow of migrants seeking to reach wealthier European countries like Germany, as European Union interior ministers met to find a solution to the worst refugee crisis in 70 years.
Austria said it was following Germany’s lead in taking a similar decision the previous day, insisting they were acting within the letter of the Schengen Agreement that guarantees free travel across much of Europe, but allows exceptions in emergency.
Austria would reinstate controls at its border with Hungary and possibly elsewhere, Austrian Interior Minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner said.
“Within the frame of Schengen, temporary border controls are allowed and we will carry out these temporary border controls,” Mikl-Leitner told journalists in Brussels. “We will proceed like Germany.”
In Bratislava, the Slovak Interior Ministry said it would start conducting checks on its borders with Hungary and Austria, adding that it too was “following the example of Germany.”
The measures followed Germany’s dramatic decision to temporarily close its border with Austria on Sunday evening.
Hungary, which is the major transit point for refugees seeking to reach Austria, Germany and Sweden, sealed the last gap in the barricade along its border with Serbia, local media reported.
The crossing at Roszke on the Hungarian side has been closed off with barbed wire, after Hungary hurriedly completed the fence along the 175-kilometre border with Serbia.
The Hir TV channel showed a police cordon blocking an opening in the fence along a railroad track where a gate is expected to be placed.
EU interior ministers were meeting in Brussels with little hope that a comprehensive agreement on a proposed quota system could be worked out for the tens of thousands migrants from the south – largely refugees fleeing war in Syria and economic migrants from the Balkans.
Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Poland have expressed objections to Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker’s proposal for mandatory distribution of 120,000 new arrivals across the bloc.
Austria said it would have 500 soldiers ready to help police secure the border with Hungary, carry out spot checks and help refugees. That number could rise to 2,200 troops within three days.
Also on Monday, French President Francois Hollande repeated calls for centres at the EU’s external borders to be set up, where migrants could have asylum applications processed.
“Germany, like France, is asking that Europe have control of its borders. That is the condition under which refugees can be received with dignity and in a controlled manner,” Hollande said, calling for centres in Greece, Hungary and Italy.
German Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel on Monday upped the number of refugees the country expected to take in this year to 1 million from 800,000 previously.
He reassured asylum seekers already in Germany. “Anyone applying for asylum on German soil will be allowed to stay until his application has been processed. We will not deviate from that,” Gabriel said.
Thousands of migrants from the Middle East streamed by train through Macedonia over the weekend, many of them hoping to cross into Serbia and then Hungary before a new law goes into effect in Hungary on Tuesday that penalizes illegal border crossings.
More than 6,000 migrants, mostly Syrian refugees, took the train ride across Macedonia on Sunday and Monday morning, the authorities and international aid organizations said in Skopje.
Hungary registered more than 10,000 migrants after they crossed from Serbia over the weekend, police data showed Monday.
On Sunday 5,809 people were registered. It was a new single-day high, breaking the day-old record of 4,330.
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s cabinet is to consider declaring of a state of emergency on Tuesday, a measure that would pave the way for army patrols to reinforce police along the border.
More than 5,000 refugees crossed the border from Hungary to Austria overnight, with thousands more expected over the course of Monday, Austrian authorities in the border town of Nickelsdorf said.
A total of 19,100 refugees arrived by rail in the southern German city of Munich at the weekend.
Train services between Germany and Austria resumed early Monday, after the connection was temporarily halted on Sunday.