Slovenia erects more border fence to curb migrant inflow

Workers installs a fence on the bank of the Kolpa river in Preloka, Slovenia, August 22, 2019. REUTERS/Srdjan Zivulovic

PRELOKA, Slovenia (Reuters) – Slovenia has begun work on an additional stretch of fence along its southern border with Croatia with which it aims to keep out a rising number of migrants entering the country illegally.

Slovenia’s police registered 7,415 illegal migrants in the first seven months of this year, a jump of 56% compared to the same period of 2018 as more people are trying to reach wealthy Western states via the Balkans.

Last month the government signed a contract with a Serbian firm Legi-SGS to put up 40 kilometers (25 miles) of fence on the border with Croatia. Once that section is completed, the total length of fence will be 219 kilometers and cover almost a third of the Slovenian border with Croatia. Slovenia’s total land and sea border is 1,370 km long.

“The fence will be erected temporarily in the areas where it is necessary to prevent illegal crossings of the state border and ensure the safety of people and their property,” said Irena Likar, a spokeswoman of the Interior Ministry.

A Reuters photographer near the village of Preloka in southern Slovenia saw construction work underway at the site.

Likar said the exact time plan and location of for the erection of the fence would not be made public.

Slovenia first began constructing a border fence during the refugee crisis of 2015 when in a period of six months about half a million illegal migrants passed through the country.

This new stretch of fence is around 2.5 meters high and is being erected on the banks of the river Kolpa which runs between Slovenia and Croatia.

The government’s immigration policy has met with little opposition in Slovenia, although some civil society groups are against the wire fence.

Most illegal migrants come from Pakistan, Algeria, Afghanistan, Morocco and Bangladesh. Only a fraction seek asylum in Slovenia, with most continuing on to neighboring Italy and Austria.

Last month Italian and Slovenian police started joint border patrols in order to curb the flow of illegal migrants.

(Reporting by Srdjan Zivulovic and Marja Novak; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)

Bracing for Russian military exercise, Lithuania puts up a border fence

Workers drill a hole for a fence near the Sudargas border crossing point with Russia in Ramoniskiai, Lithuania June 5, 2017

By Andrius Sytas

RAMONISKIAI BORDER CROSSING POINT, Lithuania (Reuters) – Lithuania has began constructing a two-meter high wire fence along its border with the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad ahead of military exercises Moscow is planning to hold there in September.

While the 45-km-long (30 mile) fence will provide little defense against a full-scale attack, it aims to prevent provocations and incidents, Lithuanian Interior Minister Eimutis Misiunas said on Monday.

“In order to avoid such situations, we decided we need the fence”, Misiunas said at the groundbreaking ceremony.

For Lithuania and other Baltic republics, which won their independence from Moscow in 1991 but remain home to ethnic Russian minorities, any massing of Russian troops near their borders spreads concern, especially since the 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula by Moscow.

Although Russia has not disclosed the size of the Zapad (West) exercises that it holds every four years on its western borders, analysts have said that this year’s drill may be the largest in quarter of a century, with a movement of about 100,000 Russian troops expected.

The recent deployment of 1,000 NATO troops to Poland and each of the Baltic states has unnerved Moscow, which had warned in January that it was a bad idea.

The United States will have doubled its troops in the region for the duration of the military exercises, an official told Reuters, speaking on condition of anonymity.

In July, the U.S. Patriot surface-to-air missile (SAM) missile battery will be deployed in Lithuania for two weeks in July, for the first time in the region where Russia has air superiority.

The fence, which is to cost 3.6 million euros, is to define clearly the geographical border between Kaliningrad and Lithuania. Surveillance equipment installed alongside will give an early warning of any violation, the minister said.

(Writing by Andrius Sytas; Editing in Warsaw by Lidia Kelly)

More high tech gear sought by U.S. border agents

View of Border Patrol camera tower near Laredo Texas

By Julia Harte

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Federal agents who patrol the U.S. border with Mexico want 23 more miles (37 km) of fences, better radios and more aerial drones to tighten the southern frontier, according to an unpublished U.S. government study that influences budget requests.

The modest scope of the requirements, details of which were contained in internal emails seen by Reuters and described by Border Patrol officials in interviews, contrasts sharply with calls by Republican presidential candidates for more drastic measures to secure the border. Front runner Donald Trump and rival Ted Cruz have both pledged to build a border wall, a project that could cost several billion dollars.

The extra fences sought by agents in Texas and California would be the first major fencing addition to the nearly 2,000-mile-long southern border in five years. They would cost about $92 million based on the costs of previous fences, though experts say that cost has risen.

Border Patrol has not asked its parent agency, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), to request funding for any new fences so far.

Border Patrol Chief Ronald Vitiello told Reuters that he is aware that some of his agents require “handfuls” of miles of additional fencing, though he declined to comment on the number of additional miles required.

The 653 miles of fencing currently along the southwest border is a mix of wall-like fences and more basic vehicle barriers. About half of it was built for $1.2 billion in the four years after 2007, when Congress gave the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) a mandate to fence the most vulnerable sections of the 1,954-mile border.

Building those fences required the department to waive 36 environmental and tribal sovereignty laws, including the Safe Drinking Water Act and the American Indian Religious Freedom Act, and mired the government in costly litigation with property owners.

The CBP has for the past three years used the internal study to gauge border agents’ most urgent needs and inform Border Patrol funding requests, though the agents’ specific requirements are not spelled out in budget documents.

The study also uses a border visualization and threat simulator built by Johns Hopkins University researchers who have run similar programs for the U.S. military, according to Vitiello.

The new fencing that agents require is for three sectors of the border, and would mainly consist of metal or concrete bollards clustered closely enough to prevent people from squeezing through, according to a March email between Border Patrol officials.

Apprehensions of people trying to cross illegally into the United States over its southwest border have mostly declined since the 1980s and 1990s, and they hit a nearly four-decade low in 2011. After a small rise, they dipped to near 2011 levels again last year.

Agents have also identified more reliable radios, handheld surveillance drones and all-terrain vehicles as resources they need urgently to close border security gaps, Vitiello said.


The Border Patrol has been doubling down on a “virtual wall” of drones, blimps and tower-mounted cameras, an approach that has produced mixed results.

The bulk of the CBP’s current $447 million annual budget for fencing, infrastructure, and technology goes toward surveillance towers, unmanned aircrafts, retired military blimps, and other advanced technological equipment.

After jumping to $1.5 billion in 2007 following the Congressional mandate to build hundreds of miles of new fencing, that budget decreased for several years, but has been rising steadily since 2013.

A Senate appropriations committee spokesman confirmed that “border security remains the biggest investment area” in the DHS appropriations bill, but he and his House committee counterpart declined to speculate on future funding levels.

The DHS, which oversees the CBP, had taken ownership of more than 3,900 items of excess equipment from the U.S. Defense Department as of a year ago, according to a U.S. Customs and Border Protection presentation obtained by Reuters. That included “Marcbots” – wheeled robots that detect tunnels – and advanced radar surveillance systems.

But watchdog agencies and the Border Patrol agents’ union have criticized DHS and CBP for neglecting their stocks of basic equipment, such as radios, and not effectively demonstrating how new acquisitions improve border security.

DHS pledged to improve its equipment investment policies following several such reports. A senior official with the department’s inspector general said the internal review of border security gaps will help CBP “re-assess where all the risk is and then re-allocate the resources to the greatest risk areas.”

The Government Accountability Office said it is about halfway done reviewing Border Patrol’s ability to address border security gaps as part of a review requested by U.S. lawmakers on homeland security committees. It expects to release those findings in the latter part of the year.

(Reporting by Julia Harte; editing by Stuart Grudgings)

Austria plans fence at Italian border

A sign reading "Republic of Austria - border control" is seen at Brenner on the Italian-Austrian border

VIENNA (Reuters) – Austria may build a 400-metre border fence at its Brenner crossing with Italy, the police chief for the province of Tyrol said on Wednesday, according to the Tiroler Tageszeitung newspaper.

Whether the fence is built would depend on Italy’s willingness to cooperate, Helmut Tomac told a news conference, the newspaper reported. A spokesman for Tyrol’s police said he could not immediately confirm the report.

Austria has already started building work at the border to enable controls to be implemented if numbers of migrants arriving there make it necessary.

(Reporting by Kirsti Knolle; writing by Francois Murphy; editing by John Stonestreet)

How Europe Built A Fence

File photo of a migrant who is waiting to cross the Greek-Macedonian sitting in his tent by the border fence at a makeshift camp, near the village of Idomeni

By Gabriela Baczynska and Sara Ledwith

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – In early March, Europe’s migration chief Dimitris Avramopoulos squelched through a muddy refugee camp on Greece’s border with Macedonia and peered through the barbed-wire topped fence that stands between tens of thousands of migrants in Greece and richer countries that lie to the north.

“By building fences, by deploying barbed wire,” he said, “it is not a solution.”

But Avramopoulos has not always preached that message – and his changing views capture the tangle Europe has got itself into as more than a million migrants and refugees have floated in on Greek waters since the start of 2015.

In 2012, when he was Greek minister of defense, Greece built a fence and electronic surveillance system along its border with Turkey. The cement and barbed-wire barrier and nearly 2,000 extra guards were designed to stop a sharp rise in illegal immigrants.

The 62-year-old former diplomat was not directly involved in the project. But in 2013 he defended it, telling a news conference the wall had borne fruit. “The entry of illegal immigrants in Greece by this side has almost been eliminated,” he said.

The official European response to Europe’s migrant crisis – championed by German Chancellor Angela Merkel last August – is for member states to pull together and provide shelter for people, especially Syrians, fleeing war or persecution. But in reality, most members have failed to take their quotas of refugees and nearly a dozen have built barricades to try to keep both migrants and refugees out. The bloc is now trying to implement a deal which would see Turkey take back new arrivals.

The European Union was founded in the ashes of World War Two, in part on a principle of freedom of movement among member states. But since the fall of the Berlin Wall, European countries have built or started 1,200 km (750 miles) of anti-immigrant fencing at a cost of at least 500 million euros ($570 million), a Reuters analysis of public data shows. That distance is almost 40 percent of the length of America’s border with Mexico.

Many of these walls separate EU nations from states outside the bloc, but some are between EU states, including members of Europe’s passport-free zone. Most of the building was started in 2015.

“Wherever there have been large numbers of migrants or refugees trying to enter the EU, this trend has been followed up by a fence,” said Irem Arf, a researcher on European Migration at rights group Amnesty International.

For governments, fences seem like a simple solution. Building them is perfectly legal and countries have the right to control who enters their territory. Each new fence in Europe has sharply curbed the numbers of irregular immigrants on the route they blocked.

For at least one company, fences work. The firm which operates a tunnel between France and Britain says that since a major security upgrade around its French terminal last October, migrants have ceased to cause trouble.

“There have been no disruptions to services since mid October 2015, so we can say that the combination of the fence and the additional police presence has been highly effective,” Eurotunnel spokesman John Keefe said.

But in the short term at least, they have not stopped people trying to come. Instead, they have diverted them, often to longer, more dangerous routes. And rights groups say some fences deny asylum-seekers the chance to seek shelter, even though European law states that everyone has the right to a fair and efficient asylum procedure.

Forced to find another way, migrants and refugees often turn to people-smugglers.


Greece’s border fence was one of the first, and Avramopoulos still defends it. He says Greece built it to divert people towards official crossings where they could apply for asylum.

Much of Greece’s frontier with Turkey is delineated by a fast-flowing river, the Evros. But there is a 12 km stretch where people used to sneak through on land after making the river crossing in Turkey.

“The Evros river is a very dangerous river,” Avramopoulos told Reuters in his upper floor office suite in February. “Hundreds of people had lost their lives there.”

At least 19 people drowned in the Evros in 2010, according to the United Nations refugee agency. Neither the Greek authorities nor Europe’s border agency Frontex could provide more data.

In practice, rights groups say Greece’s barrier – and others including one built by Spain in Morocco – effectively turn everyone away, denying vulnerable people a chance to make their case for protection.

This is partly because some new barriers have passport controls like those at an airport. People need travel documents to exit one country and reach the checkpoint of the EU country where they want to seek asylum. Many refugees don’t have any papers, so they are automatically blocked.

With barriers come security guards, cameras and surveillance equipment, which all make it harder for people to make their asylum cases. Rights groups have documented many reports of border officials beating, abusing, or robbing migrants and refugees before dumping them back where they came from. This approach, known as push-back, has become an intrinsic feature of Europe’s external borders, according to Amnesty International.

As a solution, some migrants and refugees buy fake papers. Others stow away in vehicles. Or they turn to people-smugglers.

Greece’s fence had a knock-on effect that continues to ripple through Europe as more countries wall themselves off. More migrants moving through Turkey began to enter Europe across the Bulgarian border, or by sailing to Greece in inflatable dinghies. In the eastern Mediterranean, the International Organization for Migration has recorded more than 1,100 migrant deaths since the start of last year.


The EU refuses to fund fences, saying they don’t work. As European Commissioner, Avramopoulos has tried instead to persuade fellow member states to show solidarity by offering homes to 160,000 refugees and migrants, mainly from Greece and Italy. As of March 15, just 937 asylum applicants had been relocated.

For Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban, the idea of quotas is “bordering on insanity.” Orban opposes a dilution of Europe’s “Christian values” by multicultural immigrants and started building fences along Hungary’s borders with Croatia and Serbia in late 2015.

Since the ethnic cleansing of the 1990s in the former Yugoslavia, Balkan states have been particularly sensitive to the risks of ethnic and religious conflict. Other countries followed Hungary with fences – even if most said they installed them to control the flow of people, rather than to preserve cultural purity.

When Austria started a barrier on its border with Slovenia in November 2015, it said it was necessary for crowd management. Then Austria capped the numbers of people it would admit, and how many it would allow through to Germany. By March, all these measures seemed to be having the desired effect: The number of migrants entering Germany from Austria had fallen more than sevenfold.

Even so, there were new signs the fences were simply reshaping, rather than closing, the migration routes. The numbers making the perilous crossing from Africa to Italy had increased. Austria said it would add soldiers to defend its border with Italy.

The fence Avramopoulos visited last month underlines the risks of such barriers. Built by Macedonia as part of a pact with states further north, it has sealed around 50,000 people into Greece.

More than 10,000 – a third of them children – are camped in flimsy tents near the fence. Many families have refused to leave the border, waiting instead for it to open, as respiratory infections spread and frustration mounts.

“All our values are in danger today,” Avramopoulos said. “You can see it here.”

(Ledwith reported from London; Additional reporting by Alastair Macdonald in Brussels, Renee Maltezou in Athens, Tom Miles in Geneva and Himanshu Ojha in London; Edited by Janet Roberts and Simon Robinson)