BERLIN: Two decades of frontier-free travel across Europe unraveled on Monday as countries re-established border controls in the face of an unprecedented influx of migrants, which broke the record for the most arrivals by land in a single day. Germany’s surprise decision to restore border controls on Sunday had a swift domino effect, prompting neighbors...
BERLIN: Two decades of frontier-free travel across Europe unraveled on Monday as countries re-established border controls in the face of an unprecedented influx of migrants, which broke the record for the most arrivals by land in a single day.
Germany’s surprise decision to restore border controls on Sunday had a swift domino effect, prompting neighbors to impose checks at their own frontiers as thousands of refugees pressed north and west across the continent while Hungary sealed the main informal border crossing point into the European Union.
A majority of EU interior ministers, meeting in Brussels, agreed in principle to share out 120,000 asylum seekers on top of some 40,000 distributed on a voluntary basis so far, EU president Luxembourg said. But details of the deal, to be formalized on Oct. 8, were vague with several ex-Communist central European states still rejecting mandatory quotas.
Austria said it would dispatch its military to help police carry out checks at the border with Hungary after thousands of migrants crossed on foot overnight, filling up emergency accommodation nearby, including tents at the frontier.
Thousands more raced across the Balkans to enter Hungary before new rules take effect on Tuesday, which Budapest’s right-wing government says will bring a halt to the illegal flow of migrants across its territory.
By 1400 GMT on Monday, police said 7,437 migrants had been recorded entering Hungary from Serbia, beating the previous day’s record of 5,809.
Then helmeted Hungarian police, some on horseback, closed off the main informal crossing point, backed by soldiers as a helicopter circled overhead. A goods wagon covered with razor wire was moved into place to block a railway track used by migrants to enter the EU’s Schengen zone of border-free travel.
Hungary later declared the low-level airspace over its border fence closed but allowed a trickle of refugees to enter the country at an official crossing point.
As the shockwaves rippled across Europe, Slovakia said it would impose controls on its borders with Hungary and Austria. The Netherlands announced it would make spot checks at its borders. Other EU states from Sweden to Poland said they were monitoring the situation to decide whether controls were needed.
“If Germany carries out border controls, Austria must put strengthened border controls in place,” Vice Chancellor Reinhold Mitterlehner told a joint news conference with Chancellor Werner Faymann. “We are doing that now.”
The army would be deployed in a supporting role.
BIGGEST THREAT TO SCHENGEN
Monday’s measures were the biggest threat so far to the Schengen system of a border-free Europe, which ranks alongside the euro single currency as one of the transformative achievements of integration on the continent.
Named after a Luxembourg town where it was agreed, Schengen has eliminated frontier posts across the continent since 1995. Twenty-six European countries now issue common visas and leave the borders between them unguarded.
Frontiers which were fought over for centuries and which were a bottleneck for traffic and trade just a few years ago are now marked by little more than signposts on highways across the world’s biggest economic bloc.
The rules bar undocumented migrants from travel within the zone but leave few mechanisms to stop them.
That has created chaos as hundreds of thousands of people, including refugees from war in the Middle East, arrive on the bloc’s southern and eastern edges and trek to rich countries further north and west.
EU interior ministers held seven hours of crisis talks, with Germany, France and the bloc’s executive Commission trying to overcome opposition from eastern members to a plan to compulsorily relocate 160,000 refugees from Italy, Hungary and Greece.
They did agree on the need for tighter controls of the bloc’s external borders, more aid to the U.N. refugee agency for camps close to Syria’s borders, and rapid screening of arrivals and deportation of those without valid asylum claims, to appease countries concerned that relocations will attract more people.
The EU ministers agreed to finalize soon a list of “safe countries” whose citizens would not normally be entitled to asylum. But in a snub to Ankara, the EU presidency said Turkey would not be classified as “safe” for now due to its current military action against Kurdish militants. – Reuters