Saturday

16th Feb 2019

The day borders came back to Europe

  • The EU's flagship passport-free Schengen zone showed cracks as countries reinforced border controls to stem the flow of migrants (Photo: Dan Lantner)

A surprise move by Germany on Sunday (13 September) to reintroduce border controls to deal with the influx of migrants has set in motion a domino effect in the passport-free Schengen zone, with Austria deciding to do the same, while the Czech Republic and Slovakia reinforced their frontiers on Monday.

Heading into talks with her counterparts in Brussels on Tuesday, Austrian Interior Minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner said Vienna would "proceed as Germany did ... and we will conduct these temporary border controls."

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

The Austrian army sent 2,200 soldiers to the border area to "help police tackling the refugee crisis", according the ministry's statement.

Slovakia and the Czech Republic have also reinforced their borders, with Slovakia sending an additional 220 officers to the border.

The Czechs have taken the step of beefing up the staff patrolling the border with Austria, but said they will not reintroduce border controls.

Hungary has also sealed its frontier with Serbia, an external Schengen border.

Poland's prime minister, Ewa Kopacz, said Monday that Poland is ready to impose border controls with other EU members in case of threats to border security.

Germany's decision "could detour migrants that could put pressure on the Netherlands," said Dutch minister for immigration Klaas Dijkhoff upon arriving in Brussels. He added that the Netherlands would not reintroduce border controls, but would step up border patrols.

Under EU law, in the case of "unforeseeable" circumstances, member states can reintroduce border controls within the Schengen zone for 10 days, with a possibility of extending it up to two months.

"The objective of our efforts must be to help ensure that we can go back to the normal situation of open borders between Schengen members as soon as [is] feasible", a European Commission spokesman said on Monday.

According to the Commission, this is only the second time border controls were reinstated due to unforeseen events.

Since 2013, Schengen has only been suspended six times.

Berlin's decision to reintroduce border controls already put pressure on EU member states whose home affairs ministers are meeting in Brussels to come to a political agreement on the EU commission's proposal to relocate 120,000 migrants on a mandatory basis across Europe.

Last-minute rush

There is a clear rush on the Hungarian-Serbian border, which was closed down on Monday afternoon, with police blocking the main migrant crossing point.

On Tuesday, harsher punishments will come into force in Hungary for crossing, or damaging, the border fence, which can result in 3 years in prison.

The Hungarian government also has the possibility under the new laws to introduce a "state of crisis due to mass migration". Over the weekend 4,300 army personnel helped out police with border control.

Hungarian police said that by noon on Monday 5,353 migrants had crossed into Hungary, and Sunday saw a record 5,809 people. In total, 191,702 migrants have crossed into Hungary this year.

The UN said that Hungary had effectively stopped registering migrants crossing from Serbia and was transporting them straight to the Austrian border by train.

According to media reports, Serbian authorities are attempting to "push through" as many as 30,000 migrants to Hungary.

Serb concerns

But a Serbian source told EUobserver there is no such plan.

"It wouldn’t make sense anyway. People are continuing to push upward from Greece and Macedonia. So, even if today’s quota of migrants makes it over the border to Hungary, there’ll be another one tomorrow", he noted.

He added that people are likely to get "stuck" in Serbia rather than to try alternative routes.

“It’s not so easy for people to switch to Croatia, or Bulgaria and Romania. The current route has been established over the past six months, in an almost systematic way, so it’s hard for both the people and the smugglers to suddenly change direction".

He also noted that UN staff in Belgrade are on "high alert" due to Hungary's border decision.

The United Nations refugee agency, for its part, warned that confusion surrounding border policies around Europe could leave migrants, many of whom risked their lives to make the journey, in "legal limbo".

Germany reinstates EU border controls

Germany has introduced temporary border controls to block the free movement of refugees, putting pressure on eastern EU states to take more migrants.

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.

Hungary rejects EU offer to take refugees

The EU's migrant relocation plan would have relieved Hungary of 54,000 asylum-seekers, but Hungary said on Thursday it did not want to have any part in the quota scheme.

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.

News in Brief

  1. Spain's Sanchez calls snap election on 28 April
  2. 15,000 Belgian school kids march against climate change
  3. May suffers fresh Brexit defeat in parliament
  4. Warning for British banks over Brexit staff relocation
  5. Former Italian PM wants Merkel for top EU post
  6. Antisemitic incidents up 10% in Germany
  7. Italy's asylum rejection rate at record high
  8. Hungary will not claim EU funds for fraudulent project

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership
  2. Intercultural Dialogue PlatformRoundtable: Muslim Heresy and the Politics of Human Rights, Dr. Matthew J. Nelson
  3. Platform for Peace and JusticeTurkey suffering from the lack of the rule of law
  4. UNESDASoft Drinks Europe welcomes Tim Brett as its new president
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers take the lead in combatting climate change
  6. Counter BalanceEuropean Parliament takes incoherent steps on climate in future EU investments
  7. International Partnership For Human RightsKyrgyz authorities have to immediately release human rights defender Azimjon Askarov
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersSeminar on disability and user involvement
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersInternational appetite for Nordic food policies
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Nordic Innovation House in Hong Kong
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region has chance to become world leader when it comes to start-ups
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersTheresa May: “We will not be turning our backs on the Nordic region”

Latest News

  1. Sluggish procedure against Hungary back on table
  2. Could Finnish presidency fix labour-chain abuse?
  3. Brexit and trip to Egypt for Arab League This WEEK
  4. Belgian spy scandal puts EU and Nato at risk
  5. EU Parliament demands Saudi lobby transparency
  6. Saudi Arabia, but not Russia, on EU 'dirty money' list
  7. EU agrees draft copyright reform, riling tech giants
  8. Rutte warns EU to embrace 'Realpolitik' foreign policy

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. International Partnership for Human RightsOpen letter to Emmanuel Macron ahead of Uzbek president's visit
  2. International Partnership for Human RightsRaising key human rights concerns during visit of Turkmenistan's foreign minister
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersState of the Nordic Region presented in Brussels
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersThe vital bioeconomy. New issue of “Sustainable Growth the Nordic Way” out now
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic gender effect goes international
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersPaula Lehtomaki from Finland elected as the Council's first female Secretary General
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic design sets the stage at COP24, running a competition for sustainable chairs
  8. Counter BalanceIn Kenya, a motorway funded by the European Investment Bank runs over roadside dwellers
  9. ACCACompany Law Package: Making the Best of Digital and Cross Border Mobility,
  10. International Partnership for Human RightsCivil Society Worried About Shortcomings in EU-Kyrgyzstan Human Rights Dialogue
  11. UNESDAThe European Soft Drinks Industry Supports over 1.7 Million Jobs
  12. Mission of China to the EUJointly Building Belt and Road Initiative Leads to a Better Future for All

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us