Austria has deployed armoured vehicles and will also send upto 750 soldiers close to its border with Italy to block any migrants trying to head north, the government announced.
The move reflects deep concern in Vienna and elsewhere in Europe over the huge number of asylum seekers who continue to cross the Mediterranean from Libya. According to data from the International Organization for Migration, more than 85,000 people have arrived in Italy since January, compared with 71,279 last year.
Austria said it would ramp up border controls at the Brenner Pass, a key trade and transport route through the Alps that connects the two countries. “We are ready to protect our Brenner border if necessary,” said Sebastian Kurz, the Austrian foreign minister.
The 750 soldiers could be rushed to the border within 72 hours if there was a migration emergency, officials said. “I expect border controls will be introduced very soon,” Peter Doskozil, the defence minister, told the newspaper Kronen Zeitung.
With France and Switzerland closing their borders to migrants since last year, the tens of thousands in Italy have nowhere to go.
The EU came up with a plan to relocate around 160,000 asylum seekers stuck in Italy and Greece but so far only 20,000 have been resettled.
Italy says it can no longer be expected to deal single-handedly with the vast number of asylum seekers, most of them economic migrants, streaming across the Mediterranean.
The Italians have threatened to close their ports to NGO boats carrying rescued migrants and have called on some of the vessels to be sent to ports in France and Spain.
Rome is drawing up a long list of proposals that it will present on Thursday at an EU ministerial meeting in Tallinn, Estonia.