Migrants and Security
By: Beverly Kirk
The migrant crisis in Europe continues to dominate headlines as countries struggle to deal with the influx of people. Much of the attention centers on the horrific cases of migrants drowning in the Mediterranean as they try to cross into Greece and Italy in overcrowded boats or on the migrant camp in Calais, where some are attempting to make their way into the United Kingdom. Frontex, the European border agency, says more than 100,000 migrants landed at the European Union’s borders in July, a record high, bringing the total number of border detections to nearly 340,000 for the first seven months of 2015.
Frontex has identified eight main migratory routes. Three of the largest are the Eastern Mediterranean route through Turkey to Greece, Bulgaria, or Cyprus; the Western Balkan route, which takes migrants across the Balkans to Hungary after they get into Europe via Turkey’s borders with Bulgaria or Greece and is now the “principal land entry point to Western Europe”; and the Central Mediterranean route, which takes migrants to Italy and Malta via Libya. Most are from Syria, Afghanistan, and Eritrea, according to the United Nations, but there are also substantial numbers of migrants from Kosovo, Pakistan, Nigeria, and other sub-Saharan African nations.
The nonstop migrant arrivals pose a security challenge for the European Union. Frontex’s 2015 Risk Analysis warns about the potential for increased use of fraudulent travel documents, as well as what it calls “an underlying threat of terrorism-related travel movements.” The concern is that foreign fighters may try to blend in with migrants in order to travel without attracting attention.
Turkey’s visa policies are also a source of concern. Residents of nations participating in its e-Visa program obtain a visa electronically after completing an online form and paying a fee. Some nations eligible to participate are among the top countries-of-origin for migrants heading to Europe, and at least three e-Visa countries, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and Yemen, are home to some of the foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq. The fear is that if border screening is lax, people who may be a threat could slip through.
If reports are true that some countries are too overwhelmed to screen migrants before letting them transit through to destinations in Northern and Western Europe, there’s a higher risk of terrorists slipping in unnoticed among the crowd. Although Turkey denies its e-Visa program is helping migrants illegally enter Europe, a review and tightening of its system may be needed.
Europe relies on non-Schengen countries to screen people crossing their borders. If those border checks are weak or nonexistent, migrants and/or terrorists can then access the Schengen Area countries where people move freely without passports. The recently thwarted attack on an international train in France prompted Belgium’s prime minister to call for a reexamination of the Schengen’s visa-free travel, but the European Union quickly said no to changing the policy. Some Schengen countries are beginning to beef up border security to deal with migrants. But ultimately, to deal with the flow of people, country-of-origin problems causing them to flee must be addressed. That may not stop people of ill intent from trying to enter, but at least the crowd they might use as cover would be smaller.