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24th Jun 2018

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MEPs urge Sweden to end border checks

  • Border checks at the first stop in Sweden on the train from Denmark (Photo: News Øresund - Johan Wessman)

Five MEPs from the European parliament’s civil liberties committee (Libe), who visited Sweden on Tuesday and Wednesday (20-21 September), urged it to end checks on the border with Denmark as soon as possible.

The head of the delegation, Portuguese Socialist Ana Gomes, said border checks were an exception to EU rules and must be a temporary solution.

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”Controls were introduced to give people a sense of safety,” she told journalists in Malmo [a Swedish city], ”but the situation is now very different.”

Sweden reintroduced the borders last autumn after the arrival of a record number of refugees. Some 163,000 people were registered by the Swedish Migration Agency last year.

EU rules say that a country can temporarily reintroduce borders as "a measure of last resort" when faced with a threat to public order and safety.

The Schengen Border Code says that temporary borders can be introduced for a period of six months, which can be renewed to a maximum of two years.

”We have heard just how much Malmo benefited from integration with the rest of Europe via the Oresund bridge and from the freedom of movement,” Gomes said.

She added that controls required a lot of resources that could be better used elsewhere.

Denmark and Sweden have been linked by the Oresund bridge since 2000. Some 15,000 commuters cross the strait every day by car and train.

Controls were first introduced in November last year and have been extended several times since. Anyone who wants to enter Sweden must now show an ID. The checks have caused stress and delays, and the number of trips has dropped by 12 percent according to Oresund Institute, a think tank.

The MEPs visited the Oresund bridge and Hyllie, the train station that marks the first stop in Sweden on the train from Copenhagen.

They witnessed border controls on both sides of the Oresund sound, and also met with Sweden's Migration Agency, the Oresund Institute, the police, the charity Save the Children, and one organisation for unaccompanied children.

MEPs worried that refugee children travelling without their parents were particularly vulnerable. Many children are registered once they have made it over the border, but then disappear without trace.

Swedish left-wing MEP Malin Bjoerk said she was very concerned and "even critical" of the police.

"They don't prioritise work against human trafficking and prostitution. Many of those who come, both boys and girls, are subject to sexual exposure. We were told that organisations have handed over information about 32 cases of abused children, which haven't been investigated by the police” she said.

”Officers must do more to find disappeared children in Malmo. The fight against trafficking of unaccompanied minors must be a priority,” centre-right Swedish-Italian politician Anna Maria Corazza Bildt agreed.

She was also worried about commuters.

”For every day that border checks continue, people lose jobs,” Corazza Bildt said.

”Controls must be simplified,” she added, ”so that they don’t affect people’s lives as much.”

The MEPs’ delegation also comprised Slovak centre-right MEP Jozsef Nagy, Romanian Socialist Emilian Pavel and far-right Swedish MEP Kristina Winberg.

The latter disagreed with the rest of the group.

”Controls seem to work surprisingly well,” she said. ”I think they should remain after 12 November,” she added, with reference to the date when they are due to end or be renewed.

The MEPs' opinion doesn't have any legal value.

Under the European Commission's 'Back to Schengen' plan, presented earlier this year, all internal border controls in the EU should be lifted by December 2016.

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