Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz and Austrian Minister of Defense, Hans Peter Doskozil, have announced they are considering an Austrian military mission along the Balkan refugee route. This announcement made on Friday marks an escalation in the already precarious situation for refugees in the Balkans.

While there are no details yet on the plans to send Austrian soldiers to Serbia and Macedonia, both Kurz and Doskozil have made it clear that the military’s job will not be a humanitarian mission.

Austrian soldiers are supposed to assist Serbian and Macedonian forces to guard their respective borders against refugees. In other words: They are supposed to deter people fleeing wars back home from seeking safety in Austria.

This is an escalation in a situation already characterized by need, hunger, helplessness and despair – and European countries‘ inability and sometimes outright refusal to provide safe havens for refugees and the EU’s feeble efforts to provide for any joint crisis management.

Beyond providing no help of any kind to refugees, Kurz’s and Doskozil’s announcement also sends a dangerous message: That refugees are to be considered a threat to (national) security only to be countered by military action.

Furthermore, as a refugee helper from the Balkans has told me, this step will give rise to speculations about EU plans to set up long term camps in Balkan countries who like Greece are already struggling with the situation, given next to no help by EU countries to feed and shelter refugees.

It isn’t hard to imagine that such camps will destabilize the region while rich European countries like Austria are spared the burden they could shoulder much more easily than Serbia, Macedonia, Greece or Croatia.

This is the people the Austrian government considers sending soldiers against.

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A mother and a daughter from Syria who just arrived on the Greek Island of Lesvos. Photo: (c) Betty Martin

 

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A cemetery for refugees on Lesvos, most of whom have drowned trying to reach the island. Some of the tombstones mark the graves of children. Photo: (c) Betty Martin

 

Refugees in Preševo, Serbia. Photo: (c) Jim Marshall
Refugees in Preševo, Serbia. Photo: (c) Jim Marshall
Greek authorities are struggling to provide adequate shelter as other EU countries do not provide enough aid and leave Greece to deal with the Situation on ist own. Photo: (c) Betty Martin
Greek authorities are struggling to provide adequate shelter as other EU countries do not provide enough aid and leave Greece to deal with the situation on its own. Photo: (c) Betty Martin
Waiting for transport in Croatia. Photo: (c) Jim Marshall
Waiting for transport in Croatia. Photo: (c) Jim Marshall
Along the Balkan route in Croatia. Photo: (c) Jim Marshall
Along the Balkan route in Croatia. Photo: (c) Jim Marshall
Refugee camp in Šid, Serbia Photo: (c) Jim Marshall
Refugee camp in Šid, Serbia Photo: (c) Jim Marshall

Title photograph: Refugee boy in Tovarnik, Croatia (c) Jim Marshall