Hundreds of Austrian police and soldiers have carried out an exercise on the Slovenian border over fears of a repeat of the 2015 migrant crisis.
Two Black Hawk helicopters hovered over the border on Tuesday as police cadets played the role of migrants standing at gates asking to be allowed in.
More than 500 police officers and 220 soldiers took part at the border crossing of Spielfeld as hundreds of migrants crossed the Mediterranean, causing conflict between EU states as each refused to take another boatload in.
“A state which can’t protect its borders when needed loses its credibility,” said Austrian interior minister Herbert Kickl, who oversaw the exercise along with defence minister Mario Kunasek.
Both politicians are members of the far-right Freedom Party (FPOe), which became the junior partner last year in a coalition government under conservative Chancellor Sebastian Kurz.
It was the first military exercise for the new police border protection force, with 600 officers and dubbed the Puma unit.
The government is at pains to prevent a repetition of the summer of 2015 when several thousand migrants passed through Spielfield as part of the Balkan route towards northern Europe.
Local police said almost no migrants are currently crossing there, but the coalition government fears a domino effect if Germany closes its borders.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel is facing increasing pressure from her conservative allies in Bavaria to turn migrants back at the border, a move which could prompt other states to do the same.
Last week Mr Kurz said it would be a “catastrophe” if the EU did not agree a common position on migration.
The Austrian government’s position is in line with Italy, who last week refused to allow a ship of 629 migrants rescued from off the Italian coast to dock, despite asking the ship to pick them up.
Malta also refused to take them and Spain, which was further away, eventually said they would take the migrants who were onboard French aid ship Aquarius.
A German NGO-operated rescue ship, Lifeline, has now been stuck in international waters near Malta with 234 migrants on board for days as EU countries refuse to offer safe harbour.
On Tuesday afternoon Italy said it would take some of the migrants after reaching a deal with Malta.
Its premier, Giuseppe Conte, said he hoped other EU countries would follow suit.
However, a tweet from the ship itself said they had been refused entry into Maltese waters on Tuesday evening.
The crew said they had been having to rely on media reports as they were not being contacted directly before they were refused entry on Tuesday.
Portugal has offered to take in some migrants, with the centre-left socialist government saying it will know how many if the ship docks in Malta.
Malta’s leader Joseph Muscat said EU nations need to share the responsibility “to prevent escalation into humanitarian crisis”.
He said he would allow the stranded ship to dock if other EU states agreed to take in some of those onboard, but did not confirm if they had.
Mr Muscat added that Malta plans to investigate Lifeline’s captain as it claims he ignored instructions from Italy’s rescue command centre.
Spain’s prime minister Pedro Sanchez said his country is prepared to be part of a joint European response to the stranded ship but has not specified whether it will allow it to dock or how many migrants it will take.
French President Emmanuel Macron also said France will take in migrants from Lifeline, and insisted that Europe is not in the middle of a migration crisis but a political crisis.
Italy’s premier Giuseppe Conte reacted by saying Mr Macron should “open the doors of his own home to the 9,000 migrants France was committed to taking from Italy” under European Union accords to share the numbers of migrants across EU states.
“French arrogance is no longer fashionable in Italy,” he added.
Spain’s maritime rescue service said it picked up just over 400 people from the Mediterranean on Tuesday as migrants rush to reach Spain from North Africa while the weather remains fair.
That brings the total number of migrants rescued in four days of calm seas to about 1,800.
On Tuesday afternoon Theresa May told the Greek prime minister that Britain is sending an extra border force patrol boat to the Mediterranean to help with the migrant crisis.
Their talks came as authorities in the newly-named Republic of Northern Macedonia said two migrants were killed and six severely injured when a smuggling van carrying 23 people crashed into a barrier on a motorway in the east of the country.
A police spokeswoman said they were all men aged 20-30 from Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.