Sweden Implements Tighter Border Controls Amid Migrant Crisis
AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
For the first time in 50 years, anyone who wants to cross from Denmark into Sweden must show identification. The law went into effect yesterday. It's meant to try to reduce the number of asylum-seekers arriving in Sweden. The country has taken in more than any other in Europe per capita - some 160,000 in 2015. Denmark has also imposed short-term border controls. Charles Duxbury of The Wall Street Journal was on the Danish side of the border yesterday, and he joins us now from Stockholm. Welcome to the program.
CHARLES DUXBURY: Thanks.
CORNISH: So described this scene at the border.
DUXBURY: Well, where I was located was the last train stop on the Danish side before you reach the bridge to Sweden. It was quite busy, mainly commuters arriving over the bridge from Sweden. Under the new system, everybody arriving - or who's - who wants to go to Sweden has to get off the train in Denmark, go through sort of an airport-style passport control and get on a train which then takes them over the bridge which is - normally, you could go directly from Copenhagen's main station to Malmo, which is the Swedish city on the other side.
You had the occasional asylum seeker who these controls are meant to control the flow of appearing sometimes confused by the new controls, sometimes going up to the barriers and being turned back if they didn't have ID cards, which is what the new controls demand. If they had that, they could carry on to Sweden.
CORNISH: Can you talk a little bit about the impact that Sweden is hoping that this will have on their - on the number of people who are seeking asylum there 'cause politically, it's a little bit of a turnaround for this country, right?
DUXBURY: Yes, yes it is. It's a big turnaround, really 'cause Sweden, over the last two years, has sought to, in its own words, set an example for the rest of the European Union by opening its borders to asylum seekers who are seeking refuge from conflict. But then over this summer and into the autumn, the numbers of people arriving into Sweden spiked. And in the end, they decided that they needed to do something drastic, so they've imposed this control.
And they judge that somewhere around 60 percent of asylum seekers arriving in Sweden don't have ID papers of any form. So by denying entry for people without papers, you know, they expect to see a rapid decline in the number of asylum seekers arriving. And the early signs are that that is what's happening.
CORNISH: This bridge has also been a symbol when it comes to Europe's integration, right? I mean, tell us a little bit...
CORNISH: ...About that and what that means now.
DUXBURY: Yeah. I mean, the Copenhagen and Malmo area, which is separated by water, which - huge investment made in a 5-mile-long bridge which spans the waterway there - was part of a big effort to create sort of integrated economic area. So these border controls and people in high-visibility jackets lining the border and checking passengers and so on sends out a very different message to the sort of integrated vision which Sweden and Denmark have hoped to project over recent years.
CORNISH: When people talk about what's going on in Denmark and Sweden, it again sort of raises concerns about whether or not that kind of open borders, passport-free system of the EU can be maintained through this crisis. What is the conversation like where you are?
DUXBURY: People have got used to the idea of not even having to take an ID card to the airport when they fly to Denmark or to Germany. They've got very used to the idea that they can just show up, buy a ticket and fly. So I think it's only really now that it's starting to dawn on people that we're setting the clock back a couple of decades here, and it's a very visible sign of the strain the European integration project is coming under now. I mean, there are few countries in Europe which are as close as Denmark and Sweden, and to have to show an ID document to travel between those two is something quite surprising for people here. And definitely people in the south of Sweden will be feeling that over the next few days.
CORNISH: Charles Duxbury is a reporter for The Wall Street Journal. He spoke to us from Stockholm. Thank you so much.
DUXBURY: Thanks. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.