Denmark and Sweden have tightened their borders in efforts to stem the flow of migrants entering Scandinavia from Germany.
Just hours after Swedish rules went into effect requiring train passengers travelling from Denmark to show identification, the Danish government announced it had beefed up border controls with Germany.
“We are introducing temporary border controls, but in a balanced way,” Danish prime minister Lars Loekke Rasmussen told reporters in Copenhagen, adding that there would be no problem for “ordinary” Danes and Germans when crossing the border.
The moves were the latest by European Union countries that suspended an agreement to keep internal borders open after a million migrants entered the 28-nation bloc in 2015, most of them by crossing the Mediterranean to Greece or Italy.
“If the European Union cannot protect the external border, you will see more and more countries forced to introduce temporary border controls,” Mr Loekke Rasmussen said.
He said the Danish move was in response to new identification checks introduced by Sweden on Monday for all passengers entering the country by train, bus or ferry.
“This could lead to more refugees and migrants being stopped on their journey northward, and therefore ending up with us in Denmark,” he said.
His government has taken a series of measures to discourage migrants from coming to Denmark, including a proposal to seize their jewellery to cover their expenses.
The Swedish government initially had a welcoming attitude to migrants, but reversed course after more than 160,000 Syrians, Iraqis, Afghans and others applied for asylum in 2015, the highest number in Europe except for Germany.
To comply with the new Swedish rules, passengers are having to show identification to board trains departing from Copenhagen Airport to Sweden across a bridge-and-tunnel link.
Danish officials have criticised the move and suggested Sweden should pay for the cost of the checks.
Mr Loekke Rasmussen called the Swedish move a “big setback” for efforts to deepen ties between Copenhagen and southern Sweden and predicted it would cause problems for commuters.
He stressed that the Danish checks on the German border would not be as far-reaching.
They would entail “spot checks” on passengers on trains crossing the mainland border on the Jutland peninsula and on ferries arriving in the Danish ports of Gedser and Roedby.
“We are not talking about controlling everyone coming in from Germany,” he said.
German officials have not commented directly on the Danish decision, but chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman, Steffen Seibert, said Mr Loekke Rasmussen had spoken with the German leader.
Germany introduced border controls of its own on the Austrian frontier in mid-September and Mr Seibert said those have been successful - “but it is clear to all of us in Europe . . . that we need an overall European solution.
“The solution won’t be found at national borders between country A and country B.”
More than 190,000 migrants crossed the German-Danish border last year.
About 13,000 applied for asylum in Denmark, while others travelled further north to Sweden, Norway and Finland, Mr Loekke Ramussen said.
Sweden looks set to drastically reduce the flow of refugees into the country by imposing strict identity checks on all travellers from Denmark.
For the first time since the 1950s, from midnight on Sunday travellers by train, bus or boat need to present a valid photo ID, such as a passport, to enter Sweden from its southern neighbour, with penalties for travel operators who fail to impose checks.
Those who fail to present a satisfactory document will be turned back.
“The government now considers that the current situation, with a large number of people entering the country in a relatively short time, poses a serious threat to public order and national security,” the government said in a statement accompanying legislation enabling the border controls to take place.
The move marks a turning point for the Swedish ruling coalition of Social Democrats and Greens, which earlier presented itself as a beacon to people fleeing conflict and terror in Asia and the Middle East.
“My Europe takes in people fleeing from war, my Europe does not build walls,” Swedish prime minister Stefan Löfven told crowds in Stockholm on September 6th.
But three months later, the migration minister told parliament: “The system cannot cope.”
Almost 163,000 people applied for asylum in Sweden in 2015, the highest in Europe as a proportion of the population.
In the autumn, applications were running at 10,000 weekly.
However, Stockholm has made clear it wants to slash the flow to about 1,000 a week in 2016.
Temporary border controls were first revealed in November, but the current legislation is valid for three years.
Announcing the U-turn in refugee policy, the deputy prime minister burst into tears.
Critics of Sweden’s refugee crackdown fear it will cause a “domino effect” as countries compete to outdo each other in their hostility to asylum seekers.
“Traditionally Sweden has been connected to humanitarian values, and we are very worried that the signals Sweden is sending out are that we are not that kind of country any more,” said Anna Carlstedt, president of the Red Cross in Sweden, whose staff and volunteers have often been the first line of support for new arrivals in the country.
Other Scandinavian countries have recently announced their intention to stem the flow of refugees.
Last week, Norway’s rightwing government proposed a package of new measures that it claimed would make Oslo’s asylum policies “among Europe’s toughest”.
More than 35,000 asylum seekers arrived in Norway last year, compared with 11,500 in 2014.
There is considerable uncertainty about how Sweden’s border controls will be applied.
“It will be interesting to see how carriers will interpret a document in Pashtu or Dari, and according to the official Afghan calendar in which we are now in year 1394,” Viktor Banke, an asylum lawyer in Stockholm, told daily newspaper Svenska Dagbladet.
Swedish ministers declined requests for an interview.
Reuters and Guardian Service