by William Nattrass
Tuesday, 8
November 2022
Dispatch
07:00

The EU’s migrant crisis could end free movement

Record levels of illegal immigration are straining relations in the bloc
by William Nattrass
Czech police checks on the Slovakian border. Credit: Getty

Prague

With the flow of migrants from east to west across Europe hitting levels not seen since 2015, countries on the migrant route are being forced to take a tougher stance. Yet as they confront the problem, serious questions are being raised about the viability of the freedom of movement which forms a cornerstone of the European single market.  

Truckers in Slovakia blockaded a border crossing with the Czech Republic in the small hours of Monday morning to protest against what they called “nonsensical checks” imposed by Prague, which have led to long delays in the transportation of goods. The truckers’ frustration is understandable, but the Czech government was left with no option other than imposing border controls after illegal immigration skyrocketed over recent months, increasing by 1,200% year-on-year

The controversial controls first introduced in September were recently extended for another month and a half, aiming to halt movement further west, with Germany the most popular target destination for migrants. Many of the migrants arriving in the Czech Republic entered the EU from Western Balkan countries which have visa-free travel arrangements with the bloc, such as Serbia. Over 90% of those being detained are Syrian, and most are men between the ages of 20 and 40, according to local police. 

Such migrants are viewed differently by Czechs to the hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian refugees who have entered the country in recent months. It’s felt that while Ukrainians had no choice but to flee to Eastern Europe, people from the Middle East, Africa and Asia who undertook complex routes passing through Serbia or Turkey to reach the EU fall into a different category. And the heavy strain being put on accommodation and services by the Ukrainian refugee influx means a wider migrant crisis is the last thing the region needs right now.

Yet, while it’s right for the Czechs to clamp down on people-smuggling operations, border controls with Slovakia pose new complications. For one thing, road checks are encouraging more lawless behaviour, as migrants increasingly attempt border crossings through forested areas, necessitating the deployment of police helicopters and drones with thermal imaging cameras. 

And unilateral restrictions on movement raise uncomfortable questions for the EU as a whole. Indeed, the scale of the migration crisis and the strain it is putting on law enforcement cast doubts on whether EU freedom of movement can remain viable in its current form, when it’s so commonly taken advantage of. 

These questions strike at the principles underpinning the European economy, as the Slovak trucker blockade highlighted. The truckers fairly argued that “if the Czechs have a problem with migration, they should solve it at the Hungarian-Serbian border”. Unilateral measures may be feasible for an independent country like Britain, but they’re incompatible with EU membership. 

It’s for this reason that real solutions will only be found by dealing with migration flows at the fringes of the EU. On Sunday Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán applauded Italy’s decision to turn away an NGO ship carrying 179 migrants, only allowing children and vulnerable people to disembark. A similarly bullish approach will be required elsewhere too, and relations with external partners will also need re-examining. Gateway country Serbia recently ended visa-free travel regimes with Burundi and Tunisia, while also pledging to end similar arrangements with India and Cuba, after Brussels hinted that Serbia’s own visa-free regime with the EU could be suspended if it fails to stem migrant flows. 

Faced with a migrant influx which is running out of control, the Czech government is calling on other partner countries to take similar steps. And as the EU battles a worsening crisis, the country’s border checks with Slovakia show that in order for freedom of movement to survive within the bloc, tougher responses to immigration will be needed all around its edges. 

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Stephen Walsh
Stephen Walsh
22 days ago

Nothing to see here, and nothing to worry about. So long as you focus on the important things – words like “invasion” – and sternly police those, while smearing any politician who attempts to raise any issues as “a laughing stock: crass and insensitive and politically obtuse”, then any underlying problems magically disappear.

Jeremy Bray
Jeremy Bray
22 days ago
Reply to  Stephen Walsh

Interesting that my comments on Patrikarakos’ words that you quote above have gone into moderation in respect to his article, perhaps to emerge after 9.00am or not, while the algorithm doesn’t seem to have picked up on your similar criticism.

Last edited 22 days ago by Jeremy Bray
Matt M
Matt M
22 days ago
Reply to  Jeremy Bray

I got moderated too earlier today

Aaron James
Aaron James
21 days ago
Reply to  Stephen Walsh

Maybe this facilitating illegal immigration by governments is to really cause a Big crisis – so then all must rear tracking ID to fight it – and then the government has you where they want you – under complete and total surveillance 24/7. In order to fight illegal migration………….

Matt M
Matt M
22 days ago

It makes me laugh! Commentators and politicians go round and round discussing the causes of discontent among the voters. It really is no mystery.
It’s mass immigration, stupid!
One in six Brits was born overseas! This is unbelievable and has absolutely no democratic mandate. Brits voted against it in 2010 (“immigration below 100k”), 2015 same, 2016 (Brexit), 2017 (100k), 2019 (Aussie system). The level of anger at the invasion of the dinghies is off-the-charts! If leaving the ECHR was on the ballot at the next GE, the Tories would win handily.
Sunak has two options: commit to stamping out illegal immigrations by any means necessary and reducing legal immigration to sub 100k OR lose to Labour.
But it isn’t only us as this article makes clear. The US Tea Party was a result of mass immigration over the southern border. Ditto Trump and The Wall, ditto the Red Wave today.
In every developed country it is the same story – the political and social elites versus the people.

Jeremy Bray
Jeremy Bray
22 days ago
Reply to  Matt M

The depressing part is that voting for Labour will hardly improve things. A choice of Dum and Dummer.

Matt M
Matt M
22 days ago
Reply to  Jeremy Bray

Exactly.

Hayden Eastwood
Hayden Eastwood
21 days ago
Reply to  Matt M

It will be worse than that- If the Tories fail for the 3rd time to heed the electorate’s warning they will be buried as a party forever. A new Ukip-like party will inevitably take its place.

Sunak is not just fighting for an election, but for the survival of the party itself.

Matt M
Matt M
21 days ago

Yes Hayden, I think you are probably right. Is Sunak up to it, do you think? Or is he just another squishy liberal afraid of being ostracised by the upper-class lefties?

hayden eastwood
hayden eastwood
21 days ago
Reply to  Matt M

I would love to think that he is but I’m doubtful. Your point on ostracism by electorally unrepresentative upperclass lefties will, I fear, haunt them to their death.

William Shaw
William Shaw
21 days ago
Reply to  Matt M

The majority UK elites, politicians, civil servants and media do not want to make any changes regarding illegal immigration. They pretend to be concerned but have no intention of ending what they see as a perpetual meal ticket. Only a new political party founded on the single issue of ending the “invasion” will get their attention and make them take real action.

Matt M
Matt M
21 days ago
Reply to  William Shaw

You may be right William.
I continue to hope for a more traditionalist/ populist Tory party to emerge that represents the desires of normal middle and working class people but it may be that there are just too many upper-middle-class Whigs at the top of the party now to allow happen. It might be that a new vehicle is needed and the road is longer than i had hoped.

Last edited 21 days ago by Matt M
Katharine Eyre
Katharine Eyre
22 days ago

There are border controls between Austria and Slovakia too, for the same reason as the Czechs.
Austria’s asylum system is buckling under the weight of Ukrainians, Syrians, Afghans (we’ll have something daft like 70K applications this year, NOT including Ukrainians – in a country of 8.5m) …and now thousands and thousands of Indians who are using the visa exemption rules between Serbia and India to move up into the EU illegally (it was totally foreseeable that this would happen). I see many of them arrive every day in Vienna’s Central Station and also on trains coming up from the Slovenian border.
The A4 sheets of paper in the migrants’ hands are a giveaway – I think these must be handouts from smugglers telling them where to go and what to do when they get to their preferred destination. No one seems to really interfere or intervene- perhaps the hope is that they’ll just pass through to Germany and be their problem (we are such great neighbours…). Accommodation here is packed, with cases of diptheria cropping up and disputes about tents in full swing.
The whole situation has become utterly absurd and political tensions are coming to a head – especially since Halloween when there were big problems involving asylum seekers in Linz, Klagenfurt and Salzburg (Athena-inspired violence (the series set in Paris banlieue), throwing around dangerous pyrotechnic devices and causing damage to transport infrastructure and serious risks to passersby). Even people who are pretty pro-migrant are demanding better deportation procedures although no one really knows how within the current legal framework.
The EU needs proper, tough protection on its outer borders and the legal instruments and treaties underlying asylum laws within the EU (incl. Geneva Convention) need total reform. They simply were not made for the situation in which we now find ourselves – leaving Europe without any means of control.
So, you Brits…you might find that your discontent about the overarching European legal structure is more widely shared than you think. Perhaps this is a chance to work with Europe towards a sustainable solution for the entire continent. Goodness knows there are millions over here who are as frustrated as you are with the current mess.

Last edited 22 days ago by Katharine Eyre
Katharine Eyre
Katharine Eyre
21 days ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

Addition: who knows – if you are cooperative and appear to be working towards the same pan-European goals like you are with Ukraine…those in Europe might just respond in kind by (for example) putting political pressure on Albania to take its people back (i.e. by intimating that if that migration stream doesn’t abate, membership talks will stall even further). Just a thought.
But anyway, stopping shouting hysterically about it like you’re the only ones affected would definitely be a good thing.

Dougie Undersub
Dougie Undersub
21 days ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

The UK already has an agreement with Albania. The problem is the use of the ECHR by lawyers with an agenda, to halt deportations.

Katharine Eyre
Katharine Eyre
21 days ago

If Albanians didn’t leave the country in droves in the first place then you wouldn’t have that problem. Albanians are never ever going to get anywhere near EU member status if they continue to be a source of spurious asylum claims – you can’t sell that to an already enlargement-weary EU public. The EU can exert pressure at the root of the problem – Britain should be aiming at that sweet spot and latching onto the benefits that flow from it. That would be clever, strategic thinking.

Last edited 21 days ago by Katharine Eyre
Guido
Guido
21 days ago

The ECHR, from which the British government could have freed us years ago if it really wanted to.

Samuel Ross
Samuel Ross
22 days ago

When the supply of housing remains constant, but the supply of people increases year-by-year, then the cost of houses will increase year-by-year. Simple economics. Ditto energy. Ditto ditto food, public resources (NHS), etc. Britain cannot import the population of the world without grossly outdrawing the resources of the island beyond what it can reasonably sustain.

Geraldine Kelley
Geraldine Kelley
21 days ago
Reply to  Samuel Ross

Nor without enraging the mass of the population: I’m shocked by my own reactions sometimes, to the extent that `I can envisage voting for a rather nasty UK version of the Swedish Democrats or Madame Le Pen’s organisation!

chris Barton
chris Barton
22 days ago

We could all just bury our heads in the sand and pretend its not happening (responsibly sourced of course) Works for money printing causing inflation, the vaccine injured, Net Zero etc etc. A country living in delusion.

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
22 days ago
Reply to  chris Barton

Not a country, just its media & elites.

chris Barton
chris Barton
21 days ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

No its the people too. Take lockdown for example – people thought shutting down the country wouldn’t have any consequences. Now everyone is complaining about prices going up and NHS waiting times. Well they all stood outside and clapped for this.

Doug Pingel
Doug Pingel
21 days ago
Reply to  chris Barton

Those of us who stood outside and clapped weren’t applauding THIS – we were expressing our appreciation for NHS staff and others who were working hard to save as many lives as possible despite the stupidity and greed shown by the clowns and crooks in parliament and some of their friends and advisers.

MHW
MHW
21 days ago

What can be said? This is all absurd. Europe must stand up and say NO! We all know this is unsustainable in every way and is going to lead to a very dark reaction. We can not do things like that… what baffles me is that the types who demand open borders are the types who savage any idea of national identity… it’s just formless chaos and misery for what purpose? To satisfy some big business and make people feel good? Our communities are being decimated. It’s so obvious. Get on a bus in East London and tell me if you see ANYONE who is from Britain or behaves/sounds even remotely ‘British’… I’d rather not despair but encourage European people to start to stand together in anyway and stop this. It’s miserable and we need to refuse ANY sort of moral bullying from the elites.

Brian Villanueva
Brian Villanueva
21 days ago

Watching EU progressives implode on their own postmodernist contradictions is truly cathartic.

chris sullivan
chris sullivan
21 days ago

Yes but they will be all ‘just fine’ because they are insulated by more money than the rest of us ie they dont have to live with the outcomes of their machinations which is the big problem all over….maybe bring back the guillotine if they even mention cake……