The decision by many airlines not to check identification in the EU’s borderless Schengen area has opened an easy route to Denmark for asylum seekers attracted by the country’s favourable asylum conditions, according to immigration authorities.
The new travel route is being particularly used by Somalis who enter Europe in countries such as Italy and Greece before flying on to Denmark, where they claim asylum. An increasing numbers of Somalis are claiming asylum in Denmark, with 522 claims by July 13 this year, compared with 109 in the whole of 2011.
Non-EU residents are not allowed to travel in Europe without a valid residency permit. But changes to Schengen rules in 2010 making it voluntary for airlines to demand identification from passengers on flights to other Schengen countries now means asylum seekers can effectively travel freely by air once they are inside the Schengen area.
SAS, Brussels Airlines and Air France no longer demand to see identification from their passengers. Self check-in desks also provide travellers with a means of bypassing identity checks.
According to vice-commissioner Kim Jacobsen, from Rigspolitiet’s immigration unit, Nationale Udlændingecenter (NUC), migrants can now easily travel illegally throughout Europe.
“We used to have control of the air because we checked passports,” Jacobsen told Jyllands-Posten, adding that there were no exact figures on the number of illegal immigrants that had so far entered Denmark.
In 2012 police have stopped 40 people during eleven spot checks of passengers arriving from other Schengen countries. Seven were deported and nine claimed asylum.
The development has led the right-wing Dansk Folkeparti to demand that passports be checked on all flights landing in Denmark.
“The Schengen agreement is as water-tight as a sieve and gives people a free pass to travel because the control in some countries is very poor,” Peter Skaarup, a DF spokesperson, told Jyllands-Posten, adding that border patrol agents in airports should also be checking Schengen flights.
Ole Hækkerup, a spokesperson for Socialdemokraterne, disagreed that deviating from the Schengen rules would improve border security.
“It would be a gift to criminals if each country had to tackle this problem individually,” Hækkerup told Jyllands-Posten. “No matter what rules you use and whether we set up checks at our own borders, people would still be able to get in because Denmark has 7,000 kilometres of coastline.”
Legal spokesperson for Venstre, Karsten Lauritzen, agreed.
“Checking everyone’s passports is not the answer,” Lauritzen said. “That would be legislating to the lowest common denominator. Ninety-nine point nine percent of travellers abide by the rules. It would be better to solve the problems that arise through co-operating, for example, with the Italian authorities.”
Under the Dublin convention, refugees who claim asylum in Denmark after having done so in another EU country are returned to the country where they first made their claim. But with the Schengen area’s open borders, however, asylum seekers need only avoid being registered by authorities in the first EU country they arrive in before making their way to their preferred country to seek asylum.
The increasing popularity of Denmark may be attributed to the relatively poor conditions that asylum seekers face in countries such as Greece and Italy that are traditional entry points for asylum seekers and refugees into Europe.