By Lukas Ma

Staff Writer

Moving freely in Europe, from one country to another, is for many such a natural habit that it comes close to driving around in your neighbourhood. Whether it is a quick weekend break to Barcelona or just skiing in the Alps for a day, no police force will wait at the border to check visas. European integration, in terms of free movement, has become such a fostered concept that many cannot think how their lives would look without it. As a result, approximately 1.7 million people travel across European borders every day to go to work. However, in 2015 these uncomplicated mass movements of people turned into a problem when hundreds of thousands of migrants tried to reach Europe. Once these migrants got access to the Schengen Area, the region in which European countries eliminated border controls, they did not encounter any checks to prevent them from traveling to northern Europe. As more and more people streamed into Europe, the government of Hungary was the first to close its borders again, even going so far as to build a fence along its border to Serbia. Slovenia, Austria, Norway, Denmark and Germany have also adopted Hungary’s reintroduction of border controls. This could pose a serious threat not only to easy traveling, but especially to a core principle of the European Union: free movement of people.

In order to understand the legal framework of free movement, one has to look at its origin. In 1985, Belgium, The Netherlands, Luxemburg, France and Germany signed the Schengen Agreement, which abolished general border checks between the signatory states. In 1990, Schengen II was signed, creating a single external border, establishing a common immigration and visa policy, and allowing for the free movement of persons, as we know it today. The second agreement also includes the Schengen Information System (SIS), a joint database for police forces of the different countries to use in order to enhance cooperation and coordination, safeguard security, and chase criminals transnationally. In total, the Schengen Area consists of 26 countries, including the four non-EU members: Iceland, Lichtenstein, Switzerland and Norway. Since the Schengen cooperation became EU law under the Treaty of Amsterdam in 1997, all new member states that join the European Union must agree to the terms of the Schengen Agreement. Therefore, new members of the European Union, such as Bulgaria, Romania and Cyprus, have to adopt the Schengen Agreement at a later point in time, once they fulfil the formal requirements. The requirements lie mainly in the ability to secure its external border to non-Schengen countries. The only exempt EU members are the United Kingdom and Ireland, both of which agreed to collaboration with SIS, but opted out of the rest of the agreement, which includes the elimination of borders.

In September 2015, several Schengen countries temporarily abandoned the agreement and decided to re-establish control of their borders, defending their actions by citing the agreement’s clauses for exceptional cases. Their justifications for re-establishing border controls were based on the migration crisis in Europe and the terrorist attacks in Paris, Brussels and the Thalys train from Amsterdam to Paris, all of which were made possible by the unchecked border crossings. Unilateral decisions to return to border controls are in accordance with the Schengen rules, which stipulate exceptions for cases of public order or national security, allow for a suspension of the agreement that can last for 10 days, with a possibility to extend the period up to two months. In foreseeable situations, such as a new influx of refugees, an extension of up to six months can be requested, with the ability to renew for a maximum of 30 days. In “exceptional circumstances [that] put the overall functioning of the area without internal border control at risk”, an up to two-year continuation under Article 26 of the Schengen Borders Code can be invoked[1].

Although the legal exceptions granted by the Schengen Agreement give signatory countries the freedom to react in emergency situations, in the context of the current migration crisis, these exceptions could pose a threat to the agreement itself. As the war in Syria continues, refugees will continue to try to make their way to Europe, placing further political pressure on the liberty of free movement. Greece, the first European country through which the migration flow heads, is logistically incapable of coping with the thousands of migrants coming into the country. Under the Dublin Regulation approved in 2013, every migrant must be registered in the Schengen country that they set foot in first. However in the last year, many immigrants continued to northern Europe without their fingerprints being recorded in the country of first entrance. This violation provoked a lot of criticism from EU member states; individual governments reacted by pulling the emergency brake and closing their internal borders, which slowed down their own migration flows, but also created problems for transit countries that kept their borders open. As a direct result of the closures, thousands of stranded migrants have been forced to find alternative travel routes to the most popular destinations, Germany and Sweden.

These short sighted and uncoordinated solutions to counter the migration crisis have no potential to resolve the issue. Instead, they have delayed the flow of migrants and undermined the Schengen Agreement. If the fence building continues, Schengen will not be possible anymore, as all the member states rely on the countries with external borders to protect the community from illegal immigration. If the trust and willingness to cooperate disappears, then unilateral actions will be introduced, which will undermine the concept of a common immigration policy entirely. The only way to save the free movement of people in Europe is to secure the external borders of the Schengen Area, such as those of Greece. A joint European solution can solve the influx problem of migrants and assure that Schengen can be fully reinstalled.

Otherwise, the consequences of losing the Schengen agreement could be severe, not only for the individual European citizen who would no longer be able to travel without a passport, but also for the European economy and European Integration. The European Single Market is heavily reliant on the Agreement, which makes the fast transportation of goods between Schengen countries possible. On average, in member states, an individual saves 20 minutes of travel time when visiting another country because of the elimination of border controls. A reintroduction of border controls would take Europe back to the 1980s, when the crossings were full of lorries waiting to continue their journey. Since the lorry drivers’ waiting hours are included in their working hours, the transportation costs of perishable goods would rise again, as well as those of all other imported goods from other European countries. In addition to this, the travel time for individuals would rise, leading to negative effects on tourism in Europe. Overall predictions of the potential economic losses, projected by the Institute for Economic Research and the think thank France Stratégie, range from 26billion € to 100billion € per year for the Schengen countries.

Aside from the negative economic impact, the disintegration of Schengen would be an abandonment of European Integration. The free movement of people is one of the core principles the European project stands for, and its loss would be fatal. A surrender of free movement would be a blow for a further way to make European Unification complete. In addition, it would empower the anti-European right wing movements that take the finance crisis, the migration crisis and the terrorist’s attacks as evidence of the Union’s failure and as reason to go back to independent nation-states. It is time for Europeans to recollect the conception of the European Union, to remember that it’s founding ideas and principles were based on more than the convenience of faster travel journeys. At its origin, the EU was established to unify a scattered landscape of countries through an emphasis on a shared identity and sense of trust, something embodied by the Schengen Agreement’s principle of free movement and something which should be protected today.

[1] http://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?qid=1414687415278&uri=CELEX:02006R0562-20131126


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By Summer Bales
Staff Writer

In Cologne, Germany the year 2015 ended with an incident of mass sexual assaults, highlighting a need for greater international focus on formulating a working plan for the migrant crisis in Europe. Amidst the New Year’s Eve festivities, hundreds of men gathered in Cologne’s main train station; the congregation soon escalated into a chaotic frenzy in which several women were sexually assaulted. Ninety women came forth to report being attacked (Shubert). The horrific violation of women’s rights incited fear across Germany, and the public called for justice against the attackers. Additionally, the circumstance brought implications of Arab refugees threatening national security to the forefront of political discussion.

In their reports, the women recounted being groped, robbed, and even raped as they passed through throngs of drunken men. They described their attackers as men appearing to be of mainly “North African and Arab origin.” While crossing the central plaza in the train station, the women were suddenly surrounded by onslaughts of drunken men armed with fireworks. These attacks in Cologne were a brutal violation of the bodies and human rights of these women. Equally troubling was the surprising lack of police presence, leaving the victims unprotected (Chambers).

The preliminary response to these sexual assaults was underwhelming. Authorities were initially reluctant to publicly address the incident, and a majority of media outlets failed to cover the disturbing violence until days afterward. Anticipation of public outrage may have been the reason behind the media’s reluctance to divulge the accounts of the violence in Cologne. This delivered a hazy and inadequate public understanding of what had occurred, which has become only slightly clearer in the weeks after the women were attacked. As new information continues to be brought forward, a clearer representation of the disturbing night is being reached. Along with more information comes the troubling implications that public responses to these attacks may hold for the mounting migrant crisis and growing xenophobic sentiment across receiving countries (The Associated Press).

About one week after the attacks, Germany’s Interior Ministry identified thirty-one suspects as “nine Algerians, eight Moroccans, four Syrians, five Iranians, an Iraqi, a Serb, an American and two Germans,” who committed crimes of theft, violence, and sexual assault. Out of the thirty-one suspects, eighteen were confirmed to have applied for asylum in Germany (Smale). The labeling of the suspects as “asylum-seeking Arabs” in the national media inadvertently links immigrants to crime in the eyes of opposition groups, providing them with the fuel to provoke xenophobic sentiments. An unanticipated consequence of a national media focus on the Cologne attacks could be a political setback for advocates lobbying to open national borders. The situation had potential to inflame an already heated debate over the refugee crisis in Germany—a dispute being mirrored across the world.

As a result of the attacks, German political leaders may face increased pressure to readdress national security while managing a migrant crisis that has shown no indication of relenting. The significance of the Cologne attacks extends to a building division, caused by the perceived clash between Western and Islamic culture, a false perception that continues to be propagated by Germany’s far right anti-immigration groups (Yardley).

The concept of a morally backward population that is incapable of assimilating into European society is a narrative that Muslims have outspokenly tried to dispel, and anti-immigration groups have leapt on in Germany and around Europe. Muslims in Germany have spoken out against the attacks, through media outlets such as The New York Times, despite fearing backlash. Days after the attacks, right-winged extremists led an “Anti-Islamization” demonstration in Leipzig. Members of Austria’s Freedom Party are advocating closing their borders to refugees in the wake of the unrest caused by the Cologne attacks. These are just some of the examples that reflect the reverberation of the attacks in Germany across Europe’s political sphere (Yardley).

In the wake of the attacks in Cologne, German leaders are faced with the task of detaching these increasingly xenophobic sentiments from the need to address the pressing refugee crisis. The burgeoning issues regarding immigration policy and xenophobic sentiments, that have been silenced for so long, have finally burst into political discussion. The need for direct attention to the disentanglement of these issues is echoed by Alexander Betts, director of the Refugee Studies Center at Oxford. “That the great fear is the fear of Islam,” says Betts, as he explains that the reluctance to address the “elephant in the room” is creating a void being filled by anti-immigration groups, who are able to voice their ‘concerns’ without being refuted. However, the Cologne attacks have presented a situation will prove too significant to ignore; it is already being discussed frankly and openly in the German political sphere (Yardley).

In response, political leaders in Germany have begun to publicly address the situation and assess the validity of cultural and religious implications in relation to immigration decisions. One such response, given by German Justice Minister Heiko Maas, has already warned against diminishing the complex immigration debate to a correlation between refugees and sexual assault. Rather, he pushes the public and opposition groups to evaluate the facts of the situation rather than harboring and perpetuating irrational fears of threat to national and personal security. These fears have the dangerous potential to develop into lasting prejudices, that could cloud the immigration discourse and prevent refugees from receiving the help they need (Shubert).

The migrant crisis has by no means reached a resolution; over one million refugees entered Germany last year, many coming from Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Neighboring nations in the Middle East have accepted a majority of the refugees, stretching population capacities and putting political pressure on Europe to assist the remaining millions of displaced individuals. In the face of unceasing flows of refugee and asylum seekers, the response to the sexual attacks in Cologne is crucial in establishing a precedent for handling crime without condemning the millions of others seeking refuge. The shock of the Cologne attacks forces a decision that policy makers, leaders, and individuals must address: whether these instances of violence will stoke the fear of outsiders into separatism, or if the building divisions between perceptions of cultures will be disseminated.

Works Cited

Betts, Alexander, and Paul Collier. “Help Refugees Help Themselves.” Foreign Affairs. The Council of Foreign Relations, Dec. 2015. Web. 15 Jan. 2016.

Chambers, Madeline. “Germans Shaken By Mass Attacks On Women In Cologne At New Year.” The World Post. The Huffington Post and Berggruen Institute, 5 Jan. 2016. Web. 12 Jan. 2016.

“Cologne Attacks: Germans Left Feeling Vulnerable.” BBC News. BBC News, 10 Jan. 2016. Web. 15 Jan. 2016.

Higgins, Andrew. “Norway Offers Migrants a Lesson in How to Treat Women.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 19 Dec. 2015. Web. 25 Jan. 2016.

Shubert, Atika, Tiim Hume, and Carol Jordan. “Cologne: Reports of New Year’s Sex Assaults in Cologne Fuel German Migrant Debate.” CNN. CNN, 6 Jan. 2016. Web. 12 Jan. 2016.

Smale, Alison, Victor Homola, and Katarina Johannsen. “18 Asylum Seekers Are Tied to Attacks on Women in Germany.” New York Times. N.p., 9 Jan. 2016. Web. 12 Jan. 2016.

The Associated Press. “German Muslims Condemn Cologne Attacks, Fear Consequences.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 06 Jan. 2016. Web. 20 Jan. 2016.

Yardley, Jim. “Sexual Attacks Widen Divisions in European Migrant Crisis.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 13 Jan. 2016. Web. 20 Jan. 2016.

Image by Jannik Nitz


By Aisha Ali
Staff Writer

When a boat carrying over 700 refugees capsized off the coast of Italy last April, it sent the Western world into shock. Only three days earlier, another ship from Libya with 400 refugee passengers sunk as well. By the end of 2015, nearly 3,000 refugees had died en route to Italy. This Central Mediterranean route (from Libya to Italy) has been a popular departure point for African refugees and migrants escaping the continent. It was also a destination for Syrians refugees before the Eastern Mediterranean (from Turkey to the European Union) became a more accessible and safer alternative. Of the 150,000 people crossing the Central Mediterranean in 2015, approximately 40,000 were from Eritrea alone. But unlike other nationalities on the same route, mainly Somalis and Sudanese, Eritreans aren’t leaving a warzone. So why are they braving dangerous waters to get to Europe? Why is Eritrea’s population fleeing?

To answer that question, a little background in Eritrean politics is needed. Eritrea gained independence from Ethiopia in 1993 after a referendum unanimously passed in the formally annexed region, ending over 30 years of conflict between local separatists and the Ethiopian government. Although Ethiopia’s new government, formed from the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), initially supported the independence movement, the two countries soon began to argue over their border. This ultimately led to the Eritrean-Ethiopian War of 1998, which claimed an estimated 70,000 lives and hundreds of millions of dollars before a ceasefire in 2000. As a result, Eritrean economic development plummeted and a country with a once impressive 13 percent annual GDP growth rate began experiencing volatile economic changes. The war also left thousands of Eritreans internally displaced and trapped in a continuous border war with Ethiopia, where troops from both countries can still be found posted on either side. Since 2000, tensions between the two neighboring countries have only increased. In the last decade, Eritrea has found itself in the unfortunate spot of being oppositional to the only American ally in the region, Ethiopia, and thus subject to the wrong-end of U.S. influence. Leaked U.S. embassy cables from 2009 show that Meles Zenawi, the Prime Minister of Ethiopia at the time, was instrumental in the U.N. Security Council imposing economic sanctions on Eritrea, further diminishing its economic health.

Perhaps most detrimental to Eritrea’s potential growth, aside from Ethiopian interference, is the fact that the country has been ruled by the same leader since independence. Referred to as an “unhinged dictator” by the former U.S. Ambassador to Eritrea, Isaias Afewerki has routinely come under fire by human rights groups for creating a repressive regime. Mandatory conscription was introduced following independence, which on its own would not be cause for concern considering many other countries, like Israel and South Korea, have similar laws. But while national service in Eritrea is only supposed to span 18 months, most citizens between 18 and 55 years of age have found themselves indefinitely trapped. Eritrean rights activists refer to the country as an “open prison” because military personnel are often used for manual labor, such as mining for gold in the desert for less than $2 a day. Citizens also risk imprisonment and extra-judicial executions for simply voicing their opinions on the government, with over 10,000 political “dissidents” held in 300 prisons across the country. Journalists, in particular, face serious consequences for their reporting, as Eritrea is routinely cited as one of the most censored countries in the world. It is believed that less than 5.6 percent of the population has access to mobile phone and only 1 percent has an internet connection.

Considering the current conditions of life in Eritrea, it is completely understandable why Eritrea’s population has tried its best to escape. But the journey is dangerous and, at a price of $5000 per passenger to cross the border to Sudan, also incredibly expensive. Sudan is beginning to feel the burden of Eritrean refugees who cannot afford to pay for passage onward to Europe, as the number of new arrivals per month rose to 1,000 in 2015. The few who manage to successfully leave the African continent face another obstacle: deportation. Eritrean refugees arriving in Israel are subject to imprisonment or forced on a one-way flight back to the continent, typically to Rwanda or Uganda. At some point over the last few years, Denmark, the United Kingdom, and Norway have all attempted to deny entry to Eritrean asylum seekers on the basis that the Eritrean government plans to end indefinite service, a claim that has yet to be confirmed. In an effort to stem a further influx of refugees, the European Union has offered aid to Eritrea; though there is no guarantee it will ever reach the general population.

Image by Karen Zack