Austria sends army to its border with Italy to block any migrants
Austria has deployed armoured vehicles close to its border with Italy and will send up to 750 soldiers 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 - so far this year more than 85,000 have been rescued and brought to Italy.
But it prompted a rebuke from Rome, with the Italian foreign ministry summoning Austria's ambassador to explain the beefing-up of border security. Italy has warned in the past that such measures would contravene EU rules on free movement.
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'.
His spokesman said there was no concrete timetable for the new controls. "But we see how the situation in Italy is becoming more acute and we have to be prepared to avoid a situation comparable to summer 2015."
That was a reference to the crisis two years ago when hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants streamed into Western Europe along the so-called Balkan Route, having crossed to Greece from Turkey.
The militarisation of the border seemed to be, in part at least, driven by domestic political considerations.
There are concerns that when Austria holds an election in October, the far-right Freedom Party could do well unless the government can seize the initiative on migration and border security.
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.