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25th Aug 2019

Brussels defends Dutch border control project

  • Cameras on Dutch highways will track illegal residents and irregular immigration starting 1 August (Photo: Robert Kirberich)

Existing Dutch border mobile surveillance and a new camera system to be launched in August on the Belgian and German borders do not contravene rules governing the EU passport-free area, the European Commission says.

"The legal analysis conducted by the commission led to the conclusion that Dutch mobile surveillance does not contravene the Schengen borders code," EU home affairs commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom told MEPs in Strasbourg on Wednesday evening (4 July).

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The Dutch royal military police have been conducting mobile surveillance along the border for a number of years. The aim, says the Dutch minister of interior, is to stop crimes like smuggling, human trafficking, identity fraud and money laundering.

On Tuesday (3 July), the minister announced its new border surveillance scheme - called @migoboras - would become operational on 1 August.

The system will use cameras placed along the borders to catch illegal residents and prevent irregular immigration.

Fifteen fixed cameras have already been installed on 13 highways including two regional roads. Another six are mounted on military patrol cars.

Vehicles passing into the Netherlands will be snapped. Information including the type of vehicle, colour, country or region of origin, time and location of entry, will be permanently stored and categorised, said Dr Maarten den Heijer, a member of the Meijers Committee, an independent experts' group.

License plate numbers are not stored. The cameras will also be used to assist random mobile surveillance controls on the basis of a predetermined risk profile.

Dutch court says Schengen code violated

The Netherlands' highest administrative court found in 2010 that the existing system was a violation of the border-free code.

The Dutch government then amended the system by placing restrictions on the frequency of the controls. The revision led to an inquiry by the commission.

According to Brussels, the Schengen code specifies that the abolition of border controls does not affect the use of police powers under national law as long as these do not have an effect equivalent to border checks.

The commission says the Dutch surveillance systems are valid because the police checks do not have border control as an objective.

Malmstrom's announcement came as a shock for some MEPs, notably Dutch Green MEP Judith Sargentini, who told this website the proposed system is a clear breach of EU border codes.

"It makes no sense tracking illegal aliens by putting cameras on the borders," she said.

Germans target Czech buses

The commission is currently tracking 11 other cases it says may infringe EU border control rules.

Malmstrom noted a German case in which police are stopping and searching buses crossing into its border from the Czech Republic.

Ales Ondruj, the spokesperson for the Czech bus operator Student Agency, told this website that German police stop between 30 to 40 percent of its buses on the border.

He said the searches delay the buses for up to 1.5 hours, with some passengers missing connecting train and flights in Germany as a result.

"The EU orders us to compensate our passengers for the delays. We are in a [vicious] circle," said Ondruj.

The bus company had previously met with German authorities to figure out ways to minimise passenger impact and delays. Ondruj said they agreed to hand over lists of passenger names to the Germans in advance but the authorities continued to stop the buses anyway.

"We are ready to take any step that is convenient both for us and the passengers but there is no chance with the German police," he added.

Meanwhile, the Luxembourg-based Court of Justice launched a hearing on Thursday (5 July) that involves the Dutch police stopping a Eurolines bus and detaining one of its passengers who had no ID.

The claimant, who is an Afghan national, says the police violated the Schengen border code.

Netherlands defends border control project

The Dutch interior ministry has said new cameras for screening people who enter the country by car will not violate EU laws on free movement or privacy.

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