The downside of Schengen: illegal migrants and drug trafficking

Photo: Vojtěch Berger

Europe is marking twenty years since the creation the Schengen border-free zone allowing free movement of goods, information, money and people. The Czech Republic joined Schengen eight years ago and, in addition to the enormous benefits membership brought, the authorities are increasingly dealing with the downside: illegal migrants and drug trafficking.

Photo: Vojtěch Berger
When the Schengen border-free zone was created on March 26th of 1995, exactly ten years after the signing of an agreement by five EU member states, the Czech Republic was a newly-fledged EU member. It was another twelve years before the country was ready to join Schengen on December 21st of 2007. The move was hailed as an important milestone in the country’s development – a step that sealed its return to the democratic fold after years behind the Iron Curtain. Czechs celebrated by setting out on travels and gradually businesses availed themselves of the opportunities opening up.

Eight years later, as the Schengen zone marks its twentieth birthday, Czechs are one of the most vocal defenders of the privileges it has brought, but together with the 25 other members –four of them non-EU states, they are taking stock of the less positive aspects of border-free travel. For the Czech Republic this is primarily a problem with illegal migrants – both refugees fleeing from civil wars and humanitarian crises areas and economic migrants in search of a better life. The head of the Czech Foreign Police Milan Majer says there has been a significant rise in the number of illegal migrants from both camps.

Milan Majer, photo: archive of the Ministry of the Interior
“The Czech Republic is still predominantly a transit country for migrants who are bound for Germany or the Scandinavian countries. However in recent months we’ve had a growing number of cases where refugees ask for international protection –for instance migrants from Ukraine. There are a growing number of refugees from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan, and in the last four months we have seen a steep increase in the number of economic migrants from Kosovo – mainly young families trying to get to Germany.”

The increase in illegal migrants has resulted in Schengen member states stepping up controls in the border areas, on international trains, as well as making random checks of cars and trucks. The Czech, German, Austrian and Hungarian police are cooperating closely in this respect, often working together and exchanging information and know-how. The Czech Republic’s cooperation with Germany is particularly intense since the two countries are not just fighting the problem of illegal migrants but the trafficking of the home-made drug crystal methamphetamine across the Czech-German border.