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IMMIGRATION

Germany to step up checks as far-right activists target Polish border

Germany's interior minister on Sunday said the country would increase controls on the border with Poland, as police broke up an armed group of far-right activists trying to prevent migrants from entering.

Police conduct checks at the Polish-German border
Police conduct checks of vehicles crossing the border from Poland to Germany. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Monika Skolimowska

Horst Seehofer told the Bild am Sonntag newspaper that 800 police had already been deployed on the German-Polish border to help deal with a recent increase in migrants crossing into Germany from Belarus.

“If necessary, I am ready to reinforce this even more,” he added.

Police on Sunday broke up around 50 activists from the radical far-right group “The Third Way” (Der III. Weg), which had called for its members to gather to take action against migrants seeking to cross the border from Poland.

During the operation, police seized pepper spray, a bayonet, a machete and batons.     

A recent surge in people crossing illegally over the EU’s eastern frontier with Belarus has placed major strains on member states.

Poland has proposed building a 350 million euro ($410 million) wall on its border with Belarus to keep migrants out.

Asked whether such border walls were necessary, Seehofer said: “It is legitimate for us to protect the external border in such a way that undetected border crossings are prevented.”

READ ALSO: How Germany is proposing to tighten controls on the Polish border

According to figures from the German interior ministry, around 5,700 people have travelled over the border between Germany and Poland without an entry permit since the start of the year.

On Saturday, a suspected smuggler was taken into custody after 31 illegal migrants from Iraq were found in a van near the Polish border.

Seehofer wrote to his Polish counterpart Mariusz Kaminski last week to propose increasing joint patrols along the border with Poland in response to rising numbers of migrants.

Kaminski responded that Poland would offer its “full support” for such measures.

However, Seehofer also said last week Germany had no plans to close the border with Poland, adding that such a move would also be “legally questionable”.

The EU accuses the Belarusian authorities of flying migrants from the Middle East and Africa to Minsk and then sending them into the bloc on foot in retaliation for sanctions imposed over a crackdown on the opposition.

Earlier this month, officials from countries including Poland, Lithuania and Greece argued for barriers along EU borders to counter efforts to weaponise migration.

Brussels has so far shied away from funding border walls for members states, insisting that the current legal framework only allows it to use EU budget funds for “border management systems”.

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POLITICS

How the EU aims to reform border-free Schengen area

European countries agreed on Thursday to push towards a long-stalled reform of the bloc's migration system, urging tighter control of external borders and better burden-sharing when it comes to asylum-seekers.

How the EU aims to reform border-free Schengen area
European interior ministers met in the northern French city of tourcoing, where president Emmanuel Macron gave a speech. Photo: Yoat Valat/AFP

The EU home affairs commissioner Ylva Johansson, speaking after a meeting of European interior ministers, said she welcomed what she saw as new momentum on the issue.

In a reflection of the deep-rooted divisions on the issue, France’s Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin – whose country holds the rotating EU presidency – said the process would be “gradual”, and welcomed what he said was unanimous backing.

EU countries backed a proposal from French President Emmanuel Macron to create a council guiding policy in the Schengen area, the passport-free zone used by most EU countries and some affiliated nations such as Switzerland and Norway.

Schengen council

Speaking before the meeting, Macron said the “Schengen Council” would evaluate how the area was working but would also take joint decisions and facilitate coordination in times of crisis.

“This council can become the face of a strong, protective Europe that is comfortable with controlling its borders and therefore its destiny,” he said.

The first meeting is scheduled to take place on March 3rd in Brussels.

A statement released after the meeting said: “On this occasion, they will establish a set of indicators allowing for real time evaluation of the situation at our borders, and, with an aim to be able to respond to any difficulty, will continue their discussions on implementing new tools for solidarity at the external borders.”

Step by step

The statement also confirmed EU countries agreed to take a step-by-step approach on plans for reforming the EU’s asylum rules.

“The ministers also discussed the issues of asylum and immigration,” it read.

“They expressed their support for the phased approach, step by step, put forward by the French Presidency to make headway on these complex negotiations.

“On this basis, the Council will work over the coming weeks to define a first step of the reform of the European immigration and asylum system, which will fully respect the balance between the requirements of responsibility and solidarity.”

A planned overhaul of EU migration policy has so far foundered on the refusal of countries such as the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia to accept a sharing out of asylum-seekers across the bloc.

That forces countries on the EU’s outer southern rim – Italy, Greece, Malta and Spain – to take responsibility for handling irregular migrants, many of whom are intent on making their way to Europe’s wealthier northern nations.

France is pushing for member states to commit to reinforcing the EU’s external borders by recording the details of every foreign arrival and improving vetting procedures.

It also wants recalcitrant EU countries to financially help out the ones on the frontline of migration flows if they do not take in asylum-seekers themselves.

Johansson was critical of the fact that, last year, “45,000 irregular arrivals” were not entered into the common Eurodac database containing the fingerprints of migrants and asylum-seekers.

Earlier, German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser suggested her country, France and others could form a “coalition of the willing” to take in asylum-seekers even if no bloc-wide agreement was struck to share them across member states.

She noted that Macron spoke of a dozen countries in that grouping, but added that was probably “very optimistic”.

Luxembourg’s foreign minister, Jean Asselborn, hailed what he said was “a less negative atmosphere” in Thursday’s meeting compared to previous talks.

But he cautioned that “we cannot let a few countries do their EU duty… while others look away”.

France is now working on reconciling positions with the aim of presenting propositions at a March 3rd meeting on European affairs.

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