Austria said on Wednesday it would erect fences on its border with Slovenia in an effort to control the flow of migrants into the country, sparking a row with its other neighbor, Germany, which complains the Alpine country is not properly managing the movement of asylum seekers.
As recently as two months ago, Austrian chancellor Werner Faymann took fellow European Union member state Hungary to task for building a wall on its border with Serbia. “To think that you can solve something with a fence, I believe this is wrong,” the Social Democrat said at the time.
But on Wednesday, he played down the new barrier on Austria’s southern frontier, saying, “It’s about order and control. There will not be a fence around Austria.”
A spokesman for German chancellor Angela Merkel, who has been criticized by Central European leaders for her open-door immigration policy, reiterated the Berlin government’s opposition to border restrictions. “We don’t believe that this current refugee crisis can be solved by building walls,” he said.
The Germans also accused Austria of encouraging uncontrolled numbers of migrants to cross the border, including at night. “Austria’s behavior in all this in the last few days has not been in order,” said Thomas de Maizière, the interior minister.
The record high number of people seeking asylum in Europe this year — including refugees from the civil war in Syria and migrants from poor Balkan nations — is also creating friction within Germany itself which expects to receive up to a million immigrants.
Horst Seehofer, the leader of Merkel’s conservative sister party in Bavaria, gave the federal government an ultimatum on Tuesday. If it does not change its policy, “we need to consider what options we have,” he said.
Merkel and Seehofer are due to discuss the crisis on Saturday.