The railway in the Brenner Pass near Seehof, just steps from the border between Italy and Austria. Credit ANSA/LISSI MAIR
The railway in the Brenner Pass near Seehof, just steps from the border between Italy and Austria. Credit ANSA/LISSI MAIR

New patrols on cargo trains travelling the Brenner Pass, where Italy meets the Austrian border, will check for undocumented migrants. Migrants often use trains to attempt to cross from Italy to Austria.

In the Brenner Pass, migrants risk their lives trying to reach Austria by hiding in cargo trains. The situation was put into perspective when Anthony, a small boy from Sierra Leone, was recently abandoned on one of the trains. He was discovered in one of the train cars on a train transporting vehicle. Anthony was saved after nearly dying from hypothermia.

Cross-border checks on cargo trains

Austrian Interior Minister Wolfgang Sobotka announced trilateral checks on cargo trains in theregion. Italian, Austrian and German police have already been working for some time to check for migrants on passenger trains travelling the Brenner line; now, this cross-border model of collaboration will be extended to cargo trains. 

"I have reached an agreement with my counterparts [German Interior Minister] Thomas de Maizière and [Italian Interior Minister] Marco Minniti so that joint checks will be implemented on the Italian side of the border," Sobotka said. "Illegal immigration isn't a pardonable offense and we must do everything we can to stop the inhuman business of traffickers."

According to Sobotka of the Austrian People's Party, which is led by the young chancellor-elect Sebastian Kurz, inter-force controls at the Italian-Austrian border are "another step to fight illegal immigration and interrupt the escape routes."

Austria particularly focused on Brenner situation

Vienna is paying special attention to the situation at the Brenner Pass. Austria prepared to put up a "barrier" along the roadside last year, but it was never implemented due to the low number of arrivals. A checkpoint was recently put in place at the Seehof train station, which is very close to the Austria-Italy border. It serves as a designated place to check passenger and cargo trains. Sobotka said these controls can now be implemented on Italian soil.

The measure comes despite the fact that asylum requests in Austria have sharply fallen. Between January and October, 21,130 asylum requests were registered, representing a 43.3 percent drop compared to the same period in 2016. Vienna has seen well under its self-imposed cap of 35,000 requests per year. The number of voluntary repatriations has also dropped by 16 percent (4,089), while forced repatriations have grown by 50.7 percent (5,788).

Austrian President Alexander Van der Bellen disagrees with Sobotka and Kurz's opinion. "I think politicians know what the situation is like at the Brenner border," he said. "It's not only a border between Austria and Italy but it has a symbolic value for the European Union, and I will do everything in my power to make sure this border remains open," he said during his visit to the Order of Malta in Rome. "I am under the impression that this year the [migrant] situation, as far as Austria is concerned, is under control," he said.


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