Is the EU Using Its Refugee Crisis As an Excuse to End Everyone's Freedom to Travel?


As countries across Europe aggressively clamp down on their borders, the Schengen Area, which once allowed free movement across much of the continent, is rapidly vanishing. A response to the greatest crisis of forced human displacement since World War II, the crackdown has been widely criticized as inhumane and dangerous for the large numbers of people fleeing war and poverty.

Countries once regarded as relatively welcoming are now imposing stringent new rules. Among them are Sweden, which for the first time in 50 years began on Monday to force people arriving from Denmark to show photographic identification.

The controls coincide with new border checks imposed by Denmark on people crossing its southern border with Germany. These are the first such Danish restrictions since 2001, and they go hand in hand with an aggressive new package of laws allowing police to search and seize valuables from newly arrived asylum seekers.

These developments reflect a broad trend throughout the continent, in which states are tightening—and militarizing—their borders. Among the most aggressive enforcers of what some call “Fortress Europe” is Hungary, which has hastily constructed a razor-wire fence along its border with Croatia.

As more nations crack down, pressure is mounting for all countries to follow suit. European Union ministers this week threatened to cut off Greece from the Schengen Area unless the country escalates naval patrols of its maritime border with Turkey.

Amid the heavy-handed response, there is no sign that the tightening and shutting of borders is doing anything to deter those fleeing war and poverty. Many of the refugees are survivors of conflicts fueled by Western nations. Human rights groups have argued that the restrictions simply force refugees to take more dangerous routes by land as well as sea, thereby placing their lives at further risk.

In an essay accompanying the recent World Report by Human Rights Watch, the group’s executive director Kenneth Roth noted that the crackdown is not limited to Europe. 

“In Europe and the United States, a polarizing us-versus-them rhetoric has moved from the political fringe to the mainstream,” wrote Roth. “Blatant Islamophobia and shameless demonizing of refugees have become the currency of an increasingly assertive politics of intolerance.”

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