EU: Germany, Austria and Italy launch "trilateral controls" to deal with "the increasing numbers of refugees"

On 13 November the German Interior Ministry announced the start of what it calls "trilateral patrolling" - police patrols in border regions involving officers from Germany, Austria and Italy. Controls, primarily focused on trains, will be "significantly boosted" by the operation. Thomas de Maizière, German's Federal Interior Minister, said: "Stronger action against illegal migration is urgently required in view of the increasing numbers of refugees." [1]

The new measures have been advertised as "trilateral" in nature. However, it seems that the controls will mostly take place on Italian territory.

Joachim Hermann, the Interior Minister of Bavaria - the German state closest to the Italian border - has been reported as saying: "Our aim is that asylum seekers will already be taken out of trains in Italy". [2] His Ministry's official press release states that it's "about time" that "the Italian government listens and targets asylum tourism". [3]

As well as citing concerns that Italy is failing to meet its obligations under the Dubin Regulation - under which refugees' first country of arrival in the EU must take responsibility for their asylum application - Hermann has raised the spectre of security threats:

"This [the movement of people from Italy to Germany] does not only affect the provision of available accommodation for asylum seekers in Bavaria but also raises internal security concerns, since criminals and terrorists may be among those asylum seekers." [4]

Hermann is a member of the conservative Christian Social Union (CSU), and his party has for some time been expressing concern over the way Italy has dealt with migration from North Africa.

When significant numbers of migrants began arriving on the EU's shores during the 2011 revolution in Tunisia, Italy decided to issue temporary visas allowing them to travel within the Schengen zone.

Hans-Peter Friedrich, then-Federal Minister of the Interior and also a member of the CSU, stated at the time that this breached the Schengen agreement and that: "Italy must solve its refugee problem itself". The German states of Bavaria and Hesse suggested that they may introduce border controls in response. [5]

Council conclusions

The Federal Ministry of Interior's press release notes that the three-way plan "to curb illegal migration through bilateral, trilateral and other specific activities" was introduced after EU interior ministers adopted "relevant Council conclusions" at their meeting on 10 October.

The conclusions were based on proposals from the Italian government, which currently holds the six-month rotating Presidency of the Council of the EU. Italy proposed an approach "based on three pillars":

"[C]ooperation with Third Countries... the strengthening of FRONTEX's ability to respond in a flexible and timely manner to emerging risks and pressures, and finally actions in the EU to uphold and fully implement our Common European Asylum System, also through increased operational cooperation." [6]

The conclusions foresee a number of actions in relation to the Common European Asylum System and increased operational cooperation:

"In the short term, the EU needs to act to ensure the full and coherent implementation of the Common European Asylum System. [emphasis in original] To this end all Member States must prioritize to invest and build up capacity to ensure a flexible national system for reception and asylum, capable to respond to sudden flows. Furthermore in order to address the large secondary movements within the EU which are current taking place solutions should be found to counteract the modus operandi devised by smuggling networks which aims at circumventing the EURODAC system...

"For this reason Member States, while ensuring the full and coherent implementation of the Common European Asylum System, should work in particular on systematic identification, registration and fingerprinting by, among others:

"(1) ensuring that fingerprints are taken on land, immediately upon apprehension in connection with irregular crossing of the borders, in full compliance with the EURODAC Regulation;

"(2) taking restrictive measures to prevent absconding in case migrants refuse fingerprinting, whilst respecting fundamental rights;

"(3) inform migrants in a timely manner of their rights and obligations and consequences of non-compliance with rules on identification."

If migrants are apprehended and fingerprinted in Italy, this would make Italy was responsible for asylum claims - which is what Hermann and his colleagues have been demanding.

The conclusion insist that: "The operational priorities so defined should be implemented by all players involved without delay and under the coordination of the European Commission which will closely liaise with the European External Action Service and the Council."

How exactly Italy reached its proposals for conclusions is unknown, but the country has undoubtedly faced significant pressure from Germany.

In August Joachim Hermann accused Italy of "blatantly waiving EU migrant rules" and "deliberately ignoring standard refugee procedures such as fingerprinting in order to let them seek asylum in other countries." [8] The Italian Interior Minister, Angelino Alfano, travelled to Berlin in September to meet Hans-Pieter Friedrich, his German counterpart, where they discussed the issue of migration across the Mediterannean.

The effects that the "trilateral controls" have had on the ground are so far unknown, and it remains to be seen whether they will satisfy the politicians by whom they have been introduced. One of Joachim Hermann's CSU colleagues, Bavarian governor Horst Seehofer, has previously said that "we must set quotas for refugees in Europe. And we have to deal with the fact that refugees need to be shared out among EU members fairly." [9]

Further reading

  • Claiming asylum after interception is "abuse" of procedure, claims joint police operation report', Statewatch News Online, April 2014
  • 'EU joint police operations target irregular migrants by Chris Jones', Statewatch Journal, vol 23 no 3/4 February 2014

    [1] Bundesministerium des Innern, 'Trilaterale Streifen gegen illegale Migration', 13 November 2014
    [2] 'Einreise von Illegalen und Terroristen verhindern', Blu-News, 14 November 2014
    [3] Bayerisches Staatsministerium des Innern, 'Verstärkte Kontrollen gegen illegale Migration', 13 November 2014
    [4] 'Einreise von Illegalen und Terroristen verhindern', Blu-News, 14 November 2014
    [5] David Crossland, 'Italy Using Dirty Trick to Force EU to Help With Refugees', Spiegel Online, 11 April 2011
    [6] Adopted as Conclusions on 10 October 2014: 'Taking action to better manage migrator flows', 13747/14, 6 October 2014
    [7] Notice of meeting and provisional agenda, 'Strategic Committee on Immigration, Frontiers and Asylum', CM 4769/14, 28 October 2014
    [8] 'Migration: Bavaria governor calls for border control', ANSAMed, 8 September 2014
    [9] 'Migration: Bavaria governor calls for border control', ANSAMed, 8 September 2014

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