Germany and Italy on Thursday expressed strong objections to what the leaders of the two countries described as the “unjustified” proposal from Austria to erect a fence at Austria’s alpine border with Italy to stem the flow of migrants into the country.
“We expressed our total opposition to, and, in some ways, our shock over the position that has been taken by our Austrian friends,” said Prime Minister Matteo Renzi at a joint press conference with Chancellor Angela Merkel in Rome, calling the plan “mistaken” and “anachronistic.”
“I will do all that is possible so that problems are solved in ways other that through border closures,” the chancellor added.
DW reports that the narrow Brenner Pass has become a point of contention between Italy and Austria, with Italy complaining that some states in northern Europe were allowing southern European nations to bear most of the burden of sheltering and taking care of asylum-seekers.
On Thursday, far-right Austrian presidential candidate Norbert Hofer, speaking to prestigious Italian daily La Repubblica, exacerbated the situation by comparing Merkel and Renzi to migrant smugglers bringing people over the Mediterranean in shoddy, overcrowded boats.
“It is a shameful remark that many respectable people in Austria should reflect on,” Renzi responded.
In the first three months of 2016, 14,500 people had crossed from Libya to Italy, according to the UN refugee agency. The Italian authorities worry that the wave of refugees will only increase as the weather improves.
Hofer is facing a run-off election for the Austrian presidency, a largely ceremonial post, against Alexander Van der Bellen, a Green party politician. The popularity of Hofer’s far-right Freedom Party of Austria has increased with the rise of the refugee crisis.