Schengen in crisis as Belgium reintroduces border controls

Belgium has taken the step to suspend Schengen rules to counter the arrival of migrants from Calais' "jungle" camp, pictured here. [malachybrowne/Flickr]

Border controls continue to be tightened across the EU as member states scramble to react to a refugee crisis that continues to escalate.

Belgium today (23 February) said it had temporarily reintroduced border controls with France to halt the arrival of migrants from the Calais “Jungle” camp, in a new blow to the EU’s passport-free travel area. “We have informed the European Commission that we will temporarily depart from Schengen rules,” Interior Minister Jan Jambon told a press conference in Brussels, referring to the 26-country borderless zone.

Meanwhile, Athens has expressed its “displeasure” to the EU over tougher border controls by Balkan countries that have left thousands of migrants stranded in Greece, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’ office said Tuesday.

Hungary's border fences proving ineffective

In the last few days, refugees have started arriving in Hungary in increased numbers again, suggesting that Viktor Orbán’s enthusiastic pursuit of a “sealing-off” policy is not paying off. EURACTIV’s partner Tagesspiegel reports.

In a phone call with his Dutch counterpart Mark Rutte, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency, Tsipras had also complained about being left out of a planned conference in Vienna on Wednesday (24 February) involving countries along the migrant route through the western Balkans.

“Decisions concerning refugee flows must be taken collectively without exclusions,” Tsipras told Rutte according to the statement. With all of Europe searching for solutions to the continent’s greatest migration challenge since World War II, Austria has invited interior and foreign ministers from Albania, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Croatia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Slovenia to a conference entitled “Managing Migration Together”.

Greece ready to handle refugee crisis, demands NATO deployment

Greece said on Tuesday that it was ready to handle increased migrant flows but, wanted decisions taken by EU leaders last week to protect the passport-free travel Schengen zone to be respected by all members.

At a European Council meeting last week, Tsipras had lobbied hard for a pledge from fellow EU peers not to toughen border controls until a migration summit can be held with Turkey in early March. But Austria has imposed a cap on daily asylum requests, and Macedonia, which is not an EU member, on Sunday stopped allowing passage to Afghans and imposed tougher border checks on Syrians and Iraqis, causing a massive backlog in Greece.

Greek police removed migrants from the border, with about 450 of them being loaded onto buses to be taken to reception centres in Athens, joining hundreds more fresh arrivals from outlying Greek islands that arrived on the Greek mainland.

Italy wants EU bonds to fund refugee response

A common European Union policy to manage external borders and cope with the refugee crisis should be funded with common resources, including through the issuance of EU bonds, Italy said on Monday (22 February).

Host of the Wednesday conference on migration, Austria, also lashed out at Germany’s “contradictory” refugee policy after Berlin sharply criticised Vienna’s new daily cap on migrants.

“Germany should decide which number is acceptable to it,” Chancellor Werner Faymann told reporters. A statement added that he wished for “respectful treatment of Austria’s political decisions”.

On Sunday (21 February), German Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière said the transit number was too high and that Austria’s “unacceptable” move put “extra weight on Germany’s back”.

Elsewhere in Europe, Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka said that if the United Kingdom were to vote to leave the bloc, then his country would have a debate on the issue as well. In a recent poll, 62% of Czechs said that they were unhappy with their country’s EU membership.

Czech eurosceptism is mostly attributed to the current crisis, with many of its citizens opposed to accepting any refugees.

Sobotka’s Central European colleague, Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico, said on Monday (22 February) that his government was prepared to erect mobile barriers on its borders with Austria and Hungary to direct the flow of migrants he fears will increase soon.

Slovakia has so far seen only a trickle of migrants across its territory on their way from Syria or Afghanistan to Western Europe. It has taken a particularly strong stand against accepting any significant numbers of Muslims who Fico says cannot integrate.

Fico said calls by Slovakia and other central European countries of the Visegrad Four, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Poland, for strict border protection are winning acceptance across the EU as it grapples with the migration crisis and a number of countries cap the numbers they are willing to accept.

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