Germany extends border controls, citing terrorism and migration
After over two years, Berlin said it's still not ready to stop temporary passport controls at the Austrian border. The Interior Ministry cited fears of a terrorist attack and unbridled migration for the prolonged checks.
Germany extended temporary passport controls on its border with Austria and for flights departing from Greece for an additional six months due to the prospect of irregular migration and terrorism, the Interior Ministry said in a statement on Thursday.
German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said Berlin notified the European Commission, the EU Council, the European Parliament president and interior ministers of the EU-Schengen states about its decision.
"There continue to be shortcomings in the protection of the EU's external borders, as well as a significant amount of illegal migration within the Schengen zone," de Maiziere said. "A complete return to a Schengen zone without border checks will only be possible once the overall situation allows it."
In September 2015, Germany reintroduced border controls along its border with Austria, where hundreds of thousands of migrants, many of them refugees fleeing conflict in the Middle East, entered the country. That year, more than 890,000 migrants entered Germany after German Chancellor Angela Merkel enacted her open-door policy for those fleeing conflict and persecution.
Fleeing war and poverty
In late 2014, with the war in Syria approaching its fourth year and Islamic State making gains in the north of the country, the exodus of Syrians intensified. At the same time, others were fleeing violence and poverty in countries such as Iraq, Afghanistan, Eritrea, Somalia, Niger and Kosovo.
Seeking refuge over the border
Vast numbers of Syrian refugees had been gathering in border-town camps in neighboring Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan since 2011. By 2015, with the camps full to bursting and residents often unable to find work or educate their children, more and more people decided to seek asylum further afield.
A long journey on foot
In 2015 an estimated 1.5 million people made their way on foot from Greece towards western Europe via the "Balkan route". The Schengen Agreement, which allows passport-free travel within much of the EU, was called into question as refugees headed towards the wealthier European nations.
Desperate sea crossings
Tens of thousands of refugees were also attempting the perilous journey across the Mediterranean on overcrowded boats. In April 2015, 800 people of various nationalities drowned when a boat traveling from Libya capsized off the Italian coast. This was to be just one of many similar tragedies - by the end of the year, nearly 4,000 refugees were reported to have died attempting the crossing.
Pressure on the borders
Countries along the EU's external border struggled to cope with the sheer number of arrivals. Fences were erected in Hungary, Slovenia, Macedonia and Austria. Asylum laws were tightened and several Schengen area countries introduced temporary border controls.
Closing the open door
Critics of German Chancellor Angela Merkel's "open-door" refugee policy claimed it had made the situation worse by encouraging more people to embark on the dangerous journey to Europe. By September 2016, Germany had also introduced temporary checks on its border with Austria.
Striking a deal with Turkey
In early 2016, the EU and Turkey signed an agreement under which refugees arriving in Greece could be sent back to Turkey. The deal has been criticised by human rights groups and came under new strain following a vote by the European Parliament in November to freeze talks on Turkey's potential accession to the EU.
No end in sight
With anti-immigration sentiment in Europe growing, governments are still struggling to reach a consensus on how to handle the continuing refugee crisis. Attempts to introduce quotas for the distribution of refugees among EU member states have largely failed. Conflicts in the Middle East and elsewhere show no signs coming to an end, and the death toll from refugee sea crossings is on the rise.
De Maiziere also noted that the threat of a terror attack was one of the reasons the Interior Ministry decided to extend border controls. In 2016, Germany was hit by several terrorist attacks, including one a Christmas market that left 12 people dead.
The EU has witnessed an increase of terrorist attacks in European capitals, including Berlin, Paris and Brussels over the past three years. Denmark has also extended border controls on its border with Germany, citing fears of a terrorist attack.
"We are working hard on this, all member states, the EU Commission and the EU Council, but there is still a long way to go," said de Maiziere.
A small group of Afghan teenagers, fearful of being followed by police, set off on the roughly 12-kilometer (seven mile) hike along roads and the dangerous mountain tracks of the Death Pass to France.
A treacherous route
Migrants and refugees cross the border between the town of Ventimiglia in Italy and Menton in France by walking through the highway tunnels or along railroad tracks or by climbing over the rocky mountain. Whichever way they choose, the journey is sometimes fatal.
High speeds, low visibility
Many migrants and refugees access the highway that leads to France at this fence. From here they risk their lives walking through the tunnel.
Relying on nature
Those who opt for the Death Pass generally set off without knowing the route or carrying supplies of food or water.
Out with the old
Old farmers' storehouses are used by refugees and migrants as shelter, to rest or to wait for nightfall before they cross the mountain. Worn clothes are left behind when they change into fresh clothes, hoping that a tidy appearance will help them avoid getting caught by the French police.
'Peace' signals the way
A "pace" flag hanging from the border fence between Italy and France indicates where people can squeeze through. The French government erected the fence after World War II to stop Italian immigration.
Charting a path
The teenagers survey the route down to Menton. The highest point of the Death Pass is nearly 300 meters (985 feet). Often the migrants and refugees are caught once they make it to France and sent back to Italy.