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  Border-free Europe unravels amid crisis

Border-free Europe unravels amid crisis

Published : Sep 15, 2015, 6:19 am IST
Updated : Sep 15, 2015, 6:19 am IST

Germany’s decision to impose border controls has domino effect with Austria, Slovakia following suit

Germany’s decision to impose border controls has domino effect with Austria, Slovakia following suit

The two-decade-old era of border-free travel in Europe was unravelling on Monday as countries imposed controls on their frontiers in response to an unprecedented influx of migrants.

Germany’s surprise decision to restore border controls on Sunday had a swift domino effect, forcing neighbours to shut their own frontiers, as thousands of refugees pressed north and west across the continent.

Austria dispatched its military to guard its frontier with Hungary after thousands of migrants crossed the border on foot overnight, filling up temporary accommodation space in tents and railway station car parks.

“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.”

He and Mr Faymann said the Army would be deployed in a supporting role.

“The focus of the support is on humanitarian help,” Mr Faymann said. “But it is also, and I would like to emphasise this, on supporting border controls where it is necessary.”

Slovakia said it too would shut its own borders with Austria and Hungary.

The measures were the biggest threat to the Schengen system, which since 1995 eliminated frontier posts across Europe and ranks alongside the euro single currency as one of the transformative achievements of integration on the continent.

The 26 European countries in the Schengen area issue common visas and leave the borders between them unguarded. Frontiers which were fought over for centuries and which choked off 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.

That has created chaos as hundreds of thousands of people, including refugees from war in West Asia, arrive on the bloc’s southern and eastern edges and head to richer and more welcoming countries further north and west to seek asylum.

European interior ministers were holding crisis talks, with Germany, France and the bloc’s executive commission trying to overcome opposition from eastern members to a plan to relocate 160,000 refugees from Italy, Hungary and Greece.

Poland said it was prepared to impose controls if migrants aimed for its frontier in large numbers, and any EU decision to impose quotas for accepting refugees on member states without their agreement would lead to institutional crisis.

“We will accept only as many refugees as we can afford, not a single one more or less,” said Prime Minister Ewa Kopacz.

The Dutch ministry for justice said that the police will carry out spot border checks in response to the migrant inflow.

“We will increase mobile controls in the border regions,” spokesperson Yvonne Wiggers said, citing a decision by junior minister for security and justice, Klaas Dijkhoff.

Dutch reception centres are filling up quickly and are expected to reach full capacity in September. About 3,000 migrants entered the Netherlands last week.

Location: Netherlands, Noord-Holland, Amsterdam