Monday, 24 Jun 2024

Berlin warns Schengen Zone is 'in danger' if EU can't protect borders

Germany warns Schengen Zone will be ‘in danger’ if the EU cannot protect its external frontiers as Berlin imposes new border controls with Poland and Czech Republic after migrant influx

  • Berlin says the measures will see an increase in policing along ‘smuggling routes’
  • Left-wing Foreign Minister Nancy Faeser said if more is not done to protect Europe’s external borders, then ‘the open borders within the EU are in danger’

Germany has warned the Schengen Zone will be ‘in danger’ if the EU cannot protect its external frontiers, as Berlin imposes new controls on its borders with Poland and the Czech Republic after an influx of migrants.

Germany saw its first-time asylum requests rise by 78% in the first seven months of 2023, according to official data. In August, registered illegal border crossings to Germany reached 14,701, up 66% on the same month last year, police data shows.

The new controls will see an increase in policing along ‘smuggling routes’, and would begin immediately, Berlin official said today. 

Announcing the new measures on Wednesday, German interior minister said more should be done to protect the European Union’s fragile system of open borders. 

‘If we do not succeed in better protecting the external borders …, then open borders within the EU are in danger,’ Nancy Faeser told reporters in Berlin. 

Germany has warned the Schengen Zone will be ‘in danger’ if the EU cannot protect its external frontiers, as Berlin imposes new controls on its borders with Poland and the Czech Republic after an influx of migrants. Pictured: A officer of German Federal Police stops a van to search for immigrants at the border crossing from Poland into Germany

She said the focus of the new measures would be people smugglers, which she said facilitated the passage of a quarter of the migrants entering Germany. 

‘We want to prevent evasive movements of smugglers through flexible and mobile controls at changing locations,’ she said, adding that the measures would be initiated in concert with Poland and the Czech Republic. 

The announcement came a day after police raids in Germany found more than 100 Syrian citizens inside apartments searched in connection with a smuggling ring. 

Faeser did not offer any details on how many more border police officers would be deployed but stressed that no fixed border checks would be installed as Germany has been doing along the border with Austria since 2015. In order to introduce such controls, Germany would have to notify the European Commission.

She said new border controls would supplement the mobile police patrols already checking cars crossing the border or people trying to enter Germany on foot. 

‘We must stop the cruel business of smugglers who put human lives at risk for maximum profit,’ Faeser said. 

German Finance Minister Christian Lindner wrote later on Wednesday on the X platform, formerly known as Twitter, that his ministry would support the increased border control with additional customs officers.

‘Border controls are to be intensified to stop smuggling and illegal migration,’ he wrote. ‘To ensure that this succeeds quickly, I have decided that customs will support this urgent task with 500 staff.’

Suspected illegal migrants sit on the ground after they were detained by German police during their patrol along the German-Polish border to prevent illegal migration, in Forst, Germany, September 20, 2023

Police officers on duty during a raid stand in front of an apartment building in Stade, Germany, Tuesday Sept. 26, 2023. During raids in five states, officers discovered several Syrians suspected of having been smuggled in early Tuesday morning

Germany has implemented new controls along its borders with Poland and the Czech Republic

Many migrants from countries like Syria, Afghanistan, Turkey and elsewhere have been trying to get to Germany to apply for asylum. 

Cities and communities across Germany have been sounding the alarm about the rising number of arrivals, saying they are running out of room to accommodate them and provide kindergarten and school places.

As a result, migration features high on the agenda in Europe’s largest economy ahead of a string of state elections in which the far right is hoping to boost its sway, starting with polls in Bavaria and Hesse on Oct. 8.

Municipalities have called for more funding to cope with arrivals, pointing to stretched accommodation and services reminiscent of 2015, when Germany took in over 1 million refugees fleeing war in the Middle East.

This year, more than 220,000 people applied for asylum in Germany in the period from January to August.

In all of 2022, about 240,000 people applied for asylum. Those numbers are still a far cry from 2015-16, when more than 1 million migrants applied for asylum in Germany.

However, in addition to migrants, Germany has also taken in more than 1 million Ukrainians fleeing Russia’s brutal war on their country.

About one quarter of all migrants who reach Germany come with the help of smugglers on dangerous routes across the Mediterranean Sea and through forests along the Balkans route, Faeser said. 

They usually pay thousand of dollars to reach Germany.

However, even if migrants get stopped on the border by police because they don’t have valid entry documents, they can still come to Germany if they apply for asylum.

‘We want to prevent evasive movements by smugglers through flexible and mobile checks at changing locations,’ Faeser said. 

‘At the same time, we will ensure that the controls have as little impact as possible on people, commuters and commerce in everyday life.’

Faeser also pointed out that ‘for a significant reduction of irregular migration, a joint European asylum system remains the decisive step,’ meaning that the EU’s external borders must be strictly checked so that migrants cannot even reach countries like Germany, located in the center of the bloc.

People stand at the entrance to an immigration office in Berlin on September 26, 2023

Police detain suspects as they patrol along the German-Polish border to prevent illegal migration near Klinge, Germany, September 20, 2023

Ahead of the election in his state, Bavaria’s conservative premier Markus Soeder suggested an upper limit on asylum seekers of 200,000 annually – a proposal rejected by Faeser. 

The latest increase in numbers comes as thousands of migrants travelling on boats from North Africa have landed on the Italian island of Lampedusa.

Two weeks ago, Germany said it would suspend an agreement with Italy to take in some of its arrivals, arguing that Rome was not sticking to long-contested rules dictating that asylum applications should be processed in the EU country of first arrival.

Faeser withdrew that decision within days in light of the unfolding crisis on Lampedusa.

The surge in arrivals has also led to tensions with Germany’s neighbour Poland, which said it may introduce border checks.

Warsaw on Tuesday, weeks ahead of its own national election, began conducting checks on some vehicles crossing the Slovak border, suspecting they could be carrying illegal migrants. 

This week, Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni wrote to Germany Chancellor Olaf Scholz at the weekend to complain about Berlin’s funding of charity projects to help migrants either at sea or onshore in Italy.

A migrant holds a baby next to a police officer looking inside a van where the police found 30 migrants during their patrol along the German-Polish border to prevent illegal migration near Forst, Germany, September 20, 2023

‘I have learned with astonishment that your administration – without coordinating with the Italian government – has allegedly decided to support with substantial funds non-governmental organisations engaged in the reception of irregular migrants on Italian territory and in rescues in the Mediterranean Sea,’ Meloni wrote. 

The right-wing Meloni is pursuing a hard line against illegal immigration but Italy has seen a surge in migrant arrivals this year with some 133,000 coming ashore so far against around 69,800 in the same period in 2022.

Rome blames the NGO boats that conduct rescue missions in the central Mediterranean – the world’s deadliest sea crossing for migrants – for encouraging arrivals from North Africa. 

As part of her efforts, Meloni’s government has sought to limit the activities of charity rescue ships operating in the central Mediterranean, the world’s deadliest sea crossing for migrants, drawing the ire of others within the EU.

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