Criminals exploiting EU travel freedoms, Dutch data shows
Fresh data from Dutch police shows how irregular migrants and criminals exploit the EU's passport-free borders.
Under the rules of the so-called Schengen Area, which covers all EU countries except Bulgaria, Cyprus, Ireland, Romania and the UK, people still have to carry some form of ID and national police can still do spot-checks, so long as the European Commission does not think they amount to systematic border control.
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For their part, Dutch police regularly go on buses or trains crossing the Belgian and German borders to demand papers, in a practice which surprises some travellers.
From last August, Dutch police also use military-grade surveillance cameras called @migo-boras to identify suspect cars.
Their figures for 2012 show that they caught 1,733 "illegal migrants."
They put 627 people in detention centres and handed over 380 others to Belgian or German police. They escorted the rest back to Belgium or Germany or gave them a set time to leave the Netherlands.
They caught another 2,409 people who were red-flagged in the Schengen IT system for infractions such as unpaid speeding fines.
In terms of more serious crime, they caught 121 people smuggling cash for purposes of money-laundering.
They caught 325 people carrying drugs and 259 people with illegal weapons.
They also intercepted 419 people with fake travel documents, 141 people guilty of smuggling migrants and 110 people involved in human trafficking - mostly of eastern European women made to work in sex clubs.
The figures were higher in 2010 (3,230 "illegal migrants," 4,081 red-flagged travellers).
The Dutch military police said the difference is due to Dutch attempts to fall into line with Schengen limitations on controls and on new EU laws, such as the Return Directive.
EU rules also limit the use of @migo-boras cameras to six days or 90 hours per month.
When asked by EUobserver if Dutch policemen are frustrated by the EU curbs, police spokesman Dennis Muller said: "We work within the boundaries of the laws handed down to us and we do not give our opinion on this."
For its part, the European Commission last year queried whether @migo-boras violates EU rules.
It now says that both the cameras and the spot-checks are in line with the Schengen code.
"We consider that Dutch mobile surveillance (supported by @migo-boras) does not have an effect equivalent to border checks, as they are not systematic, but limited in time," commission spokesman Michele Cercone told EUobserver.
When asked if he is concerned that Schengen freedoms help organised crime groups, he said: "The creation of the Schengen area is one of the most tangible, popular and successful achievements of the EU."
He added: "Free movement is central to the success of the EU single market and an important factor for European [economic] growth."