- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 6, 2008

LONDON SUNDAY TELEGRAPH

TRAISKIRCHEN, Austria — Thousands of asylum seekers are on the move across Europe as a result of a new relaxation of internal border controls.

Last month’s expansion of a system intended to make it easier for European Union citizens to move among member countries has led to a dramatic rise in illegal aliens.

Some politicians are demanding that the borders once again be closed. Harald Vilimsky, secretary-general of the Austrian Freedom Party, said there had been an “avalanche of asylum seekers,” mainly from Russian-speaking countries.

Gerald Grosz, of the Alliance for the Future of Austria party, said the government was turning Austria into “an El Dorado for fake asylum applicants and criminals.”

At the Traiskirchen refugee camp in Austria, numbers have more than doubled, from 300 to 770, since more Eastern European countries joined the Schengen open-border system just before Christmas. Many, traveling on foot, in vans and taxis, had started their journey in Russia’s troubled Chechnya province.

Elena Gairabeka and her five children walked across the border into Austria from the Czech Republic after initially leaving Russia and entering the European Union through Poland, which along with eight other countries joined the Schengen zone on Dec. 21.

The group, which included a 6-month-old baby, faced night-time temperatures of minus 4 degrees Fahrenheit during the journey.

Mrs. Gairabeka said they made the trip to join her husband Muslim Gairabeka, who had entered Austria illegally five years earlier. Mrs. Gairabeka said they entered Poland by train but had been unable to continue their journey until the border rules changed on Dec. 21. The new rules mean that staff at the internal borders can no longer check passports. The rules do not apply to Britain and Ireland, which are not part of the Schengen zone.

There were concerns ahead of the Schengen expansion over lax controls on the new eastern frontier and fears that many more illegal aliens would be able to enter the EU.

“We were able to get to Poland without a visa, and we applied for asylum — that meant we could stay while the application was processed,” Mrs. Gairabeka said. “Now the borders have opened I have been able to cross to Austria. We hitched a [ride in a truck] part of the way and walked the rest. But I am worried they will send us back to Poland.”

Most asylum seekers arriving in Traiskirchen had few possessions and little protection against the bitter cold. But Mrs. Gairabeka said it was worth the discomfort.

“To be honest, we don’t care if we live here or in Poland or Britain,” she said. “The main thing is that after five years we want to be a family again, and my children want their father.”

Mr. Gairabeka previously had to travel to Poland to meet with his family.

Almost 2,000 soldiers still patrol Austria’s borders, but they are powerless to check the passports of new arrivals. With a border that includes the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary and Slovenia, Austria has been the first to experience the wave of new arrivals.

“The government held parties to celebrate Schengen, but never bothered to evaluate the security situation properly. If they are not going to close these borders, they need more camps,” said Traiskirchen Mayor Franz Gartner.

Austrian Interior Minister Guenther Platter pledged that the new arrivals would be sent back to Poland. “Anyone who comes to us from another EU country has no right to asylum here. They will be sent back to the EU country they came from,” he warned.

German police, who opposed the opening of the borders, have also reported a sharp increase in the number of illegal aliens entering the country.

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