The Slovenia Times

Slovenian-Italian border to remain open


After Austria decided to extend checks on its internal Schengen border yet again, the Italian home affairs minister has assured his Slovenian counterpart Italy is not planning to impose controls on its border with Slovenia despite having declared a state of emergency due to a surge in migrants.

Speaking after meeting Italian counterpart Matteo Piantedosi in Rome on 13 April, Interior Minister Boštjan Poklukar said Italy having declared a state of emergency would not affect the situation on the Slovenian border.

"At the moment, the agreements we have with Italy are working ... Police cooperation in the mixed patrols is excellent," Poklukar told RTV Slovenija. Italy will not close the border and will not take additional measures at the border, he said after the meeting.

The two ministers noted the increased number of irregular border crossings on the Western Balkan route, but "the situation in the south of Italy is even worse at the moment", Poklukar said.

He understands the Italian government's decision to declare a state of emergency, as this gives it "a legal basis for the mobilisation of civil protection and other services to help manage the situation in the south of Italy."

The two ministers also discussed the return of migrants from Italy to Slovenia. "Returns are continuing regularly in line with the agreement between the two countries," said Poklukar.

The Interior Ministry emphasized that the agreement clearly set out that Slovenia can only accept migrants who have entered Italy from Slovenia, have been apprehended in the border area and have not applied for international protection in Italy.

This year, Slovenian police have received 32 persons from the Italian authorities. Last year Slovenia returned 58 migrants to Italy and received 65, ministry data shows.

Matteo Salvini, Italy's deputy prime minister and minister of transport and infrastructure, threatened Slovenia earlier in the week that Italy would impose border checks unless Slovenia started accepting migrants who crossed into Italy illegally from its territory.

However, according to the Slovenian Interior Ministry, Piantedosi said Italy saw this as an extreme measure and did not plan to introduce it. He and Poklukar agreed though that the EU's external border should be secured more effectively, with both countries willing to assist in the effort.

The meeting came just days after Austria announced its plan to extend checks on its border with Slovenia for another six months in May, which it has been doing since it first introduced controls on what is an internal Schengen border during the 2015 migrant crisis.

Austrian border checks deemed unwarranted

The Slovenian Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs expressed regret over Austria's decision. "This move is unacceptable, which is something Slovenia has been pointing out to Austria and the relevant institutions for a long time," the ministry said.

Foreign Minister Tanja Fajon urged her Austrian counterpart Alexander Schallenberg to reconsider the decision, and Poklukar described border checks as unnecessary.

Austrian Interior Minister Gerhard Karner told the public radio Ö1 on 11 April that border checks had to be extended because of significant migratory pressure due to ineffective external border control. Two days later he told reporters in Vienna border checks were one of the measures to crack down on migrant smuggling.

Even Peter Kaiser, the governor of Carinthia, the Austrian province bordering Slovenia, raised objection to the checks and the Slovenian Business Association (SGZ), a Slovenian minority organisation based in Klagenfurt, urged the Austrian authorities to immediately take steps to end them.

The measure has been creating economic problems and difficulties for businesses operating between the two countries, the SGZ said. Slovenia and Austria are important trade partners, so economic activity between the two countries should be facilitated.

In 2021, the European Court of Justice ruled that internal border checks can only be introduced in the face of serious threat to public order or internal security of a member state. However, the measure must not exceed six months.

This is also the view of the European Commission, which said on 11 April that internal border checks must remain an extraordinary measure, strictly limited in duration, and a last resort.

Slovenian police intercepted more than 5,000 foreigners who crossed into Slovenia illegally in January and February, a four-fold rise from the same period in 2022. They recorded more than 32,000 illegal migrants throughout last year.

In the first two months of the year Austria returned 7 migrants to Slovenia and accepted 4 from Slovenia, which compares to 13 and 3, respectively, in the same period last year, according to the most recent available police data.


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