Sunday

21st Jan 2018

Germany reinstates EU border controls

  • Refugees are trying to make their way into the EU as member states struggle with the influx (Photo: Stephen Ryan / IFRC)

Germany, on Sunday (13 September), introduced temporary border controls to block the free movement of refugees, throwing into doubt the future of the EU’s passport-free Schengen travel zone and sending a message to European partners that it needs help.

“The aim of this measure is to limit the current influx to Germany and to return to orderly entry procedures”, Thomas de Maiziere, Germany’s interior minister told reporters. "This is also urgently necessary for security reasons”.

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De Maiziere said refugees “cannot choose” which country to go to and called on EU members to stick to the so-called Dublin rules, which say asylum seekers must be registered in the country where they first enter the bloc.

Trains between Austria and Germany were suspended for 12 hours.

The decision by Germany, the preferred destination for many fleeing the war in Syria, amounts to a policy U-turn from one week ago.

At the time, Berlin and Vienna agreed to let refugees come from Hungary in a one-time emergency measure, with tearful Germans welcoming migrants in Munich and other cities.

Under Schengen rules, member states have the right to reintroduce border controls temporarily "if there is a serious threat to public policy or internal security”.

“Temporary” normally means no more than 30 days.

Germany did not specify how long the border controls will remain in place, however.

It said it has reached the limit of its capabilities to take care of people, after more than 13,000 migrants arrived in Munich on Saturday alone. The country expects 800,000 asylum seekers to arrive this year.

Domino effect

The Czech Republic has also reinforced its border controls, while Austria’s foreign minister Sebastian Kurz floated the idea of temporarily closing its border with Hungary.

Meanwhile, Theo Francken, Belgium’s right-wing state secretary for migration, warned that Belgium will have to close its borders if the German decision results in a sudden influx of asylum seekers to Belgium.

Hungary is fortifying its fence along the Serbian frontier, as it gets ready to seal the border completely by Tuesday.

Its hardline prime minister, Viktor Orban welcomed Berlin's move as a "necessary" decision to protect European values in the face of a record migrant influx.

"We understand that this decision was necessary in order to defend Germany's and Europe's values”, he told the Bild newspaper.

A record number of migrants, 5,809, also entered Hungary on Sunday. But the country is introducing harsh punishments for illegal border crossings starting Tuesday.

Schengen in doubt

Germany’s decision came before EU ministers discuss plans to redistribute migrants from frontline states, Greece, Italy, and Hungary.

The European Commission said in a statement on Sunday it saw no problem with Germany’s decision.

The EU executive said the crisis "appears to be a situation covered by the rules” and urged member states to agree on the plan.

"The German decision of today underlines the urgency to agree on the measures proposed by the European Commission in order to manage the refugee crisis," it said.

Berlin has become frustrated with the reluctance of many other, mostly eastern European member states, to participate in the mandatory relocation scheme.

Its border control move is a tool of political pressure, because eastern member states are the main beneficiaries and supporters of the Schengen system.

Martin Selmayr, Juncker's chief-of-staff also tweeted on Sunday: “Schengen will be in danger if EU member states don't work together swiftly and with solidarity on managing the refugee crisis.”

Meanwhile, many people are still making their way into Europe through Greece and the so-called western Balkan route to Austria and Germany, risking their lives.

Greece's coast guard said 34 died on Sunday, including four infants and 11 older children, who drowned when a wooden boat containing more than 130 people capsized near the island of Farmakonissi.

Interior ministers in asylum showdown

Interior ministers are gathering in Brussels to discuss EU commission plans to relocate 160,000 asylum seekers amid a widening rift between member states.

The day borders came back to Europe

First Germany, then Austria, and now the Czech Republic and Slovakia have begun reinforcing border controls due to the migrant crisis, in a big blow to EU free movement.

Opinion

On the future of EU asylum and free movement rules

The Dublin regulation is already subject to occasional and selective suspension. Suspending Schengen free movement rules would erode one of the fundamental principles of the EU.

Germany piles on the pressure in refugee talks

Chancellor Merkel called for an emergency EU Summit on asylum next week, a few hours after her interior minister hinted at cuts in EU funding for countries opposed to sharing refugees.

Macron eyes France-UK border agreement

French president Macron wants the UK to take in more refugees as he revisits the 2003 Le Touquet agreement, which allows British border controls to take place inside French territory.

Magazine

The asylum files: deadlock and dead-ends

The EU is reforming a number of internal asylum laws, but lack of staff, politics, and the sheer complexity of the bills means deadlines - like those announced by EU council chief Tusk - are likely to come and go.

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