Sunday

29th Mar 2020

Sweden keen to slow Europe's 'refugee highway'

  • Denmark's migration minister, Inger Stojberg (c), says they may extend the German border controls beyond the announced 10 days (Photo: EC - Audiovisual Service)

Sweden is demanding measures to block "the highway" of migrants traversing across Europe, as the inflow of refugees to Germany has not slowed since September.

Ole Schroder, from the German federal interior ministry, told reporters in Brussels on Wednesday (6 January) that some 3,200 people seeking international protection were entering Germany on a daily basis in September last year.

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Schroder, speaking alongside ministers from Sweden and Denmark, and the European commissionner for migration, said "the numbers are not declining in the last days".

The three ministers were called to Brussels to discuss recent border clampdowns between Denmark and Sweden and Denmark and Germany, respectively.

EU states have been scrambling to respond to the refugee crisis, with temporary border closures and fences becoming a recurrent feature.

Fears remain the shutdowns and ID checks will spark a domino effect and possibly lead to the break up of the EU's passport-free Schengen zone.

Germany imposed border control checks in mid-September. Those checks have since been extended with Sweden this week launching ID checks with Denmark.

Denmark, in turn, imposed a 10-day border control with Germany, which is also likely to be extended.

'Their right to do so'

"What Sweden did and what Denmark did, it was their right to do so," said migration commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos.

Denmark's integration minister, Inger Stojberg, for her part, did not rule out extending the 10-day controls and imposing carrier liabilities on transport companies entering from Germany.

Carrier liabilities require companies to absorb all passenger identification verification costs to make sure they are allowed to travel.

"We have not for now introduced carrier liability but of course we are going to monitor the situation hour by hour and if necessary, we will put the carrier liability into force," she said.

All three national ministers insisted on the sanctity of the Schengen area but voiced broad criticism against EU states for not following EU asylum rules like registration and relocation.

"Our problem at the moment in Europe is that we do not have the functional border control system, especially at the Greek-Turkish border," said Schroder.

Sweden's migration minister, Morgan Johannsson, said some 115,000 asylum seekers had arrived in the past four months alone. Of those, 26,000 were unaccompanied minors.

Last year, Sweden registered 160,000, a per capita ratio higher than anywhere else in the EU.

Johannsson said measures were needed "to slow the highway that has now been introduced right through Europe via Greece, the Balkans, Austria, Germany and then up to the northern countries".

External border controls

The European Commission, for its part, is working on a report assessing Greek external border controls.

A negative evaluation could lead to a further decision to extend temporary border closures from the maximum six months to up to two years. The Greek evaluation report is still on-going.

Meanwhile, asylum seekers fleeing persecution and war continue to arrive in large numbers on the Greek Aegean islands. Over 8,000 arrived in the first four days of this year.

The casualties are already mounting, with the first reported death earlier this week, a two-year-old boy who drowned off the Greek island of Agathonisi.

The Swiss-based International Organization for Migration on Wednesday said it planned to help authorities in Libya "stability permitting" to better identify and register migrants before they ever reach Europe. It noted similar plans were being explored for Turkey and Macedonia.

"Some interventions may be desirable before migrants reach Europe", said IOM director general William Lacy Swing.

EU to hold emergency Schengen talks

EU officials are meeting with ministers from Denmark, Germany and Sweden in Brussels in an effort to better coordinate recent border control moves.

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The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development says Sweden is a model for integration of refugees, but says more should be done to address housing shortages and support those with low labour skills as well as unaccompanied minors.

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