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26 Jun, 2018 15:38

Helicopters, 100s of Austrian soldiers & police officers take part in migrant 'deterring' drills

Helicopters, 100s of Austrian soldiers & police officers take part in migrant 'deterring' drills

Hundreds of Austrian soldiers and police were involved in a border protection exercise that simulated containing migrants amid fears neighboring Germany might begin to turn away new arrivals trying to cross their frontier.

Austrian authorities deployed 600 police, 400 soldiers and two Black Hawk helicopters on Tuesday in an exercise which simulated arrival of hundreds of migrants on the country’s border with Slovenia, local media reported.

"A state that in the worst case cannot protect its borders loses its credibility," Interior Minister Herbert Kickl of the Freedom Party (FPO) told reporters, as cited by Reuters. “I am determined that events like those of 2015 must not occur again. And that is exactly the message we want to send from here.”

Migrants seeking to cross the border were portrayed by 200 police cadets. The crowd, that acted peacefully was split by security forces and fed through a system of fences and police barriers. Previous excercises, although smaller in scale, had ‘migrants’ acting violently and arrests.

The exercise was previously announced by Vice Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache – also a member of FPO – who told Germany’s Bild newspaper the drills will mark establishment of a new border police force called ‘Puma’.

“Doing this exercise on the border between Austria and Slovenia, we want to arm ourselves for all developments and send out a clear signal that there will no longer be a loss of control like the one that happened in 2015,” he reiterated

"The reasons for this are the debate about intra-European border closures, triggered by Germany, as well as current developments on the refugee routes in the Balkans,” Strache said. German Chancellor Angela Merkel is currently locked in a struggle with her hardline coalition partners that threaten to start rejecting incoming migrants who already filed for asylum in other EU states.

While a summit between EU leaders on Sunday made little progress on tackling the issue, Austria fears if Germany unilaterally closes its southern border, other EU nations might follow suit.

The exercise took place at Spielfeld, a border crossing furnished with a large crowd management system. The facility, set up in 2016, is said to be able to handle up to 11,000 people per day.

Neighboring Slovenia however said the drill ramped up the risk of another refugee influx. "The exercise is not needed. I see it even as a little provocative," Slovenian Prime Minister Miro Cerar was quoted as saying by national news agency STA, according to Reuters.