Austria and Slovenia are members of Europe’s document-free travel area, meaning that, usually, people can travel between the two countries unobstructed. The proposed fence would be the first such obstacle in the 26-member Schengen zone.
According to the BBC, 85,000 refugees have entered Slovenia in the past 10 days, since Hungary closed its border with Croatia. Serbia, Romania, and Bulgaria have all also suggested that they might begin putting up barriers.
Austria has invoked its intention to beef up border security before but until now carefully avoided the word fence. That changed on Wednesday when Austrian Interior Minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner told public ORF radio “of course it’s about a fence, but not just that, it’s also about fortified structures in the border crossing areas.”
Describing women and children caught up in scuffles, Ms. Mikl-Leitner said the aim wasn’t to seal the border with Slovenia, but to prevent people from walking on the highway.
Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann later played down Austria’s intentions, depicting the fence as just a “small door with side parts,” a system just a few kilometers long with barriers and shelters for refugees while they wait to cross into Austria. He stressed that no measure would be taken without consulting with Germany.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel is struggling to maintain a balance between preserving freedom of travel and a rising backlash to the migrant crisis. In a statement on Wednesday, Merkel’s spokesman, Steffen Seibert, said, “The federal government and the chancellor repeatedly have stressed that we believe that the refugee crisis can’t be solved with the building of fences.”