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News 16 Oct 17

Migrant Surge Complicates Romania’s Schengen Plans

Romania’s new place on the migration route to Western Europe is hindering its plans to join the passport-free Schengen zone – despite support from the European Commission. 

Ana Maria Touma
BIRN
Bucharest
Romanian border police patrol. Photot: politiadefrontiera.ro

A surge in migrants crossing Romania towards Western Europe, and the increasing number of migrant and refugees being detained on the country’s border, may delay Bucharest’s plans to join the passport-free Schengen area.

EU justice and interior ministers agreed on Friday to allow Bulgaria and Romania to consult, in read-only mode, the Visa Information System data.

The VIS connects consulates in non-EU countries and all external border crossing points of Schengen states, processing data and decisions relating to applications for short-stay visas to visit, or to transit through, the Schengen area.

The European Parliament last week gave the green light for the two countries to have access to the visa database.

But both Bulgaria and Romania are still only candidates for the Schengen zone, and will only get access to the data after they have successfully completed comprehensive tests carried out by a European agency, and once it has duly notified the European Commission of the results.

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker called for Bulgaria and Romania to be admitted to the Schengen area in his State of the European Union address in September.

However, three Schengen area countries - Austria, Germany and the Netherlands - have opposed the move.

The Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte voiced concerns over corruption in both countries, but also mentioned concerns over border control, especially mentioning a new migration route that seems to have opened up in the Black Sea region. 

Romania recently became the only way for migrants and refugees from the Middle East and Central Asia to reach Western Europe, after Balkan countries closed off the so-called Western Balkan Route last year, and after both Turkey and Greece vowed to cut the route in the Aegean Sea.

Over 4,000 people have crossed the border into Romania so far in 2017, three times the number in 2016.

Romanian border police have been reporting at least two groups of asylum seekers every day in the past month trying to cross from Bulgaria and Serbia, on their way to Hungary.

Romania together with Turkey have made efforts to curb a new migration route opening up in the Black Sea, that saw scores of people drown on September 22, when a boat sank off the Turkish shore on its way to Romania.

But the number of migrants and asylum seekers trying to cross into Romania on land has also increased, with the local border police reporting up to three groups a day last week.

In the latest incident, two Iranians were detained on Friday at Bucharest airport trying to enter Romania with fake passports.

A day before, 12 Iraqi asylum seekers were caught trying to walk into Hungary after they had crossed the Danube from Bulgaria. The Romanian authorities tried to return them to Bulgaria, under the terms of an EU agreement, but Sofia refused to accept them.

The same night, a family of five Iraqi asylum seekers in Romania tried to cross into Hungary using fake Hungarian passports.

On a visit to Romania at the beginning of October, Hungary’s Prime Minister, Viktor Orban, said Budapest would rather help Romania protect its eastern border than build another fence on the Romanian-Hungarian border like it did on its frontiers with Serbia and Croatia.

“Sooner or later, we will need effective protection of Romania’s eastern border, or else Romania will be overwhelmed by migrants and we will be forced to build a fence. We definitely want to avoid that,” Orban said. 

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