Sweden: common action needed – unilateral border controls not the answer

by Jesuit Refugee Service Europe | @JesuitRefugee | Jesuit Refugee Service International
Tuesday, 12 January 2016 15:35 GMT

* Any views expressed in this article are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Brussels, 8 January 2016 – The Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) is concerned at the recent news that Sweden has reinstated identity checks at its border with Denmark. Sweden has a long tradition of protecting refugees and defending human rights. In fact, in 2015, the country received the highest number of refugees per capita in the EU, approximately 163,000 asylum applications in total. Civil society and NGOs like JRS Sweden have worked to welcome the new arrivals.

Although many countries in Europe are dealing with high numbers of new arrivals from war-torn countries, unilaterally setting up border controls will only exacerbate problems regarding migration and asylum and hinder the development and implementation of international solutions.

The first to be affected will be refugees themselves – vulnerable people of all ages – who are trying to find a safe place to live. More border controls increases business for smugglers and will force many people to take ever greater risks to reach safety.

"From Mellila to Calais to the far reaches of the EU's extremities, we have seen border control's massive negative repercussions and effects on people searching for safety. Responsible border management does not seek to turn away those in search of international protection," says JRS Europe director Jean-Marie Carrière.

Sweden has not been alone in reinstating identity checks or imposing border controls. Denmark has also reinstated identity checks temporarily at the German-Danish border. Denmark responded to the Swedish measures in order to deflect asylum seekers who might have otherwise sought protection in Sweden from seeking protection in Denmark. 

These measures highlight that the underlying shortcomings of the Common European Asylum System cannot be overcome by Member States acting alone and only in their immediate self-interest. Such measures have knock-on effects in other Member States by shifting the responsibility for refugee protection elsewhere – either to other Member States or even to third countries as has been the case with asylum seekers in the Balkans. 

The result is that asylum seekers become further and further displaced and their protection needs ever more acute. These measures present serious consequences for the protection and well-being of persons seeking asylum. 

JRS encourages EU leaders, Member States and institutions to work collectively, not unilaterally, to ensure protection for, and a humane response towards, asylum seekers and refugees. Any action should firstly, protect rather than displace asylum seekers; and secondly, support rather than disincentivise Member States to act humanely towards asylum seekers. The EU and the borderless Schengen Area were built on principles of peace, freedom and security – it is finally time for European states to work together to uphold these principles in action.