Austria buys heartbeat detectors to find migrants in lorries

Seven devices being supplied to border police as country seeks to crack down on people smuggling and asylum seekers

Police will use their new equipment to check whether vehicles crossing the Austrian border are hiding illegal migrants. Getty Images
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Heartbeat detectors that can reveal migrants stowing away in lorries are being provided to Austrian police, the government said on Friday.

This comes as the country looks to drive down asylum claims.

Seven of the devices have been bought for border police as they aim to cut off smuggling routes from the Balkans, said officials.

“This new equipment is a massive help to us in fighting criminal smuggling on the one hand, but also in saving lives,” said federal police chief Michael Takacs.

“It will really become difficult for organised crime to carry out illegal activities here on Austrian soil.”

Swift rejections of asylum applications from citizens of countries such as Tunisia and Morocco have already brought down the number of claims, Interior Minister Gerhard Karner said.

But ministers want to keep pushing a hardline stance on immigration before an election next year.

Heartbeat detectors are used by the UK's Border Force to check lorries entering the Channel Tunnel from France. They can also be used to find earthquake survivors trapped under rubble.

Six of the devices will be used on Austrian territory, where border crossings can see thousands of lorries enter per day.

Another will be used on police operations in nearby countries, such as Serbia and Hungary.

Ministers also plan to buy 50 drones for border police and seven more vehicles with thermal imaging.

“We need to keep stepping intensively on the asylum brake,” Mr Karner told a press conference near the Hungarian border.

He credited Austria’s crackdown with smugglers starting to move operations to neighbouring countries such as Slovenia and Italy.

Austria last year raised the alarm at tens of thousands of people reaching its landlocked borders.

It irritated allies by blocking Romania and Bulgaria’s membership of the Schengen Area – an area of 27 European countries that have officially abolished passport controls at their mutual borders – saying EU policy was not working.

In another measure, Vienna leant on Serbia to stop letting Tunisians and Indians arrive without a visa. They could then make their way to Austria.

People from Tunisia, India, Morocco, Bangladesh and certain other countries, are regarded by ministers as having no chance of a successful asylum claim.

More than 4,300 applications have been summarily rejected this year because they were treated as hopeless.

Since last summer the total number of asylum applications has dropped by 30 per cent, Mr Karner said.

He said another 18,000 people have left Austria voluntarily after realising they had no prospect of asylum.

Temporary checks have been brought in at several European borders that are meant to remain open under Schengen.

Under pressure from overburdened local authorities, Germany this week proposed a legal shake-up to make deportations easier.

The proposals call for people to be held in immigration detention for up to 28 days rather than 10. Police would also be given wider search powers to find people staying in relatives’ homes or bedrooms.

Updated: August 04, 2023, 11:26 AM