One of the staples of the European Union, the policy of open borders and freedom of movement, is now under major threat as the migration of refugees from Syria continues to rise. Tens of thousands of migrants have crossed the borders to enter Europe’s Schengen zone. In response to the crisis, many EU states are re-introducing border controls to curb the influx of migrants to European states.
By the rules outlined in the Schengen agreement, the signatory states will allow holders of a Schengen visa free movement within their borders. This had led to the creation of Europe’s borderless Schengen Area whereby people can travel between member countries without restrictions.
As the migrant crisis worsens, signatory states are beginning to close their borders in an effort to halt refugees moving through their countries. On Tuesday this week, Hungary closed its entire border with Serbia after enacting laws that make it illegal to enter the country or damage a new razor-wire border fence. Austria too have mobilised their military to help police carry out passport checks across the border with Hungary.
German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said, “At this moment Germany is temporarily introducing border controls along the EU’s internal borders. The focus will be on the border to Austria at first”. The Czech Republic also said it would boost controls on its border with Austria following Germany”s decision. The decision marks a dramatic shift away from the current abolishment of passport checks throughout Europe’s Schengen zone.
European Union ministers held emergency meetings in Brussels to discuss an agreement to share the refugee influx between the member states, as some questioned whether the new border controls were in direct violation of the EU”s Schengen Borders Code. Whilst it appears that the treaty is being adhered to, with Article 23 allowing the temporary reintroduction of border controls “where there is a serious threat to public policy or internal security”, there are concerns that the current situation could lead to a greater closure of borders across Europe that would greatly threaten the terms of the Schengen agreement.
The current aim will be to return to the normal situation of no border checks between member states of the Schengen zone ‘as soon as feasible’. However until then, it can be expected that those travelling through parts of Europe that are being effected by the refugee crisis can expect increased checks upon arrival at the border.
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