Today's Opinions, Tomorrow's Reality 

Schengen's Deadly Lie

By David G. Young

Washington, DC, September 1, 2015 --  

The European Union has failed to implement a region without borders. Refugees are paying the ultimate price.

When Hungary's reformist government began tearing down its border fence with Austria in 1989, it was the beginning of the end for the Iron Curtain. Tens of thousands of refugees of communist East Germany began streaming over the newly open border to reach freedom in the West. The regime collapsed and the Berlin Wall finally fell by the end of the year.

Newly free Hungary was rewarded for its bravery. It was accepted into the European Union, and in 2007, it joined the "Schengen Region," allowing free travel to all EU countries without visas or border checks.

But new actions by the Hungarian government make a mockery of its role in fighting oppression. On Saturday, the government announced it had completed a new razor wire border fence. This one on its southern frontier with Serbia, designed to keep out desperate refugees seeking to get into the EU.1 So far this year, over 300,000 migrants have crossed the Mediterranean to get to the EU2, fleeing civil war, repression and poverty in places like Syria, Afghanistan and Eritrea. The surge in numbers has been accompanied by a surge in deaths.

As of last week, 2,600 migrants have died this year trying to reach destinations in the EU.3 Most perished on rickety boats crossing the Mediterranean. But some have died inside the EU itself. On Friday, Austria revealed that 71 Syrian migrants were found dead in an abandoned freezer truck which had crossed the border from Hungary.4

The migrants who died were on the well-worn West Balkan route, favored by people fleeing Syria's civil war. Syrian refugees typically pass through Turkey and hire smugglers to take them on boats to Greece. While Greece is part of the EU, it has no land borders with other EU states in the Schengen Region. So refugees seeking to get to more prosperous northern Europe -- where jobs and family support networks await -- head north through Macedonia and Serbia before getting to Hungary, the nearest country by land in the EU's Schengen Region.

But even though border checkpoints aren't manned, that doesn't mean that refugees are allowed to pass. The European Union is no United States. National police forces hunt migrants with vigor, promoting national interests over those of both the migrants and other EU nations. Austrian Federal Police board trains and busses on their first stop after crossing an internal EU border and search for migrants from outside the EU. When found, they are arrested and deported to the country where they first entered the EU, as allowed by the Dublin accord. This means Syrians caught in Austria are dragged back to Hungary.

The migrants who died on the freezer truck were avoiding the Austrian police they knew hunted them. The smugglers bear direct responsibility for their deaths. But the Federal Austrian Police force shares the blame. Its so-called "Compensatory Measures"5 (hunting for migrants), created the desperate situation that led the victims to board the freezer truck. Since the incident, Austria has begun searching all vehicles at its border with Hungary.6

Austria is not alone in its shameful behavior. Police in France and Britain take similar measures against migrants. In Hungary, the government announced plans to withdraw from the Dublin accords and refuse to take migrants back from Austria. After threats from its richer Western neighbor, it quickly backed down.7

Of course, the EU is not the only entity that abuses its immigrants. In the United States, the Border Patrol chases people crossing from Mexico, and populist politicians like Donald Trump call for erecting a wall along the border -- despite large declines in illegal crossings in recent years.

But America's bad behavior is fundamentally different than Europe's in two ways. First, America accepts far more migrants. The US granted legal migration papers to 990,000 people in 20138. Compare this to the so-called "crisis" level of 300,000 migrants so far in 20159 for the EU, despite the fact that it has a much larger population of 500 million compared to 320 million in America.

Second, the behavior of EU police toward migrants is far more harsh. When Arizona passed a 2010 law requiring police to check papers of suspected migrants during stops authorized for other reasons, it triggered national outrage and a Supreme Court challenge.10 Yet the Arizona law's techniques are mild compared to those of the Austrian and other European police forces. You don't see police searching every bus in Tucson for people who look Guatemalan, then demanding to see their papers. In Austria and other EU countries, equivalent acts are routine.

So long as European police continue to hunt immigrants like animals, the migrants will continue to die. No mater how many words of outrange authorities spew at the smugglers, it will do nothing to lessen the authorities' own blame.

Related Web Columns:

Who Will Do The Dirty Work?, May 1, 2012

Stupid and Impossible

21st Century Immigration Law
, April 27, 2010

Submitting to the Rising Tide, June 12, 2007

Meet the Parasites, April 4, 2006

Out of the Sand!

America's Failed Immigration Policy
, July 22, 2003

Crossing Borders With Uncrossed T's, April 2, 2002

Constitutional Rights: DENIED, December 11, 2001

Profoundly Evil

The Deadly Face of Modern Migration
, June 27, 2000

Lessons of the Conquistadors, April 4, 2000

Constitutional Apartheid

America's New Political Underclass
, March 9, 1999


1. Deutsche Welle, Hungary Completes Anti-Refugee Fence on Serbian Border, August 30, 2015

2. United Nations, More Than 300,000 Make Perilous Mediterranean Crossing in 2015 – UN Refugee Agency, August 28 2015

3. Reuters, Libyan Drownings, Truck of Corpses Drive up Migrant Toll, August 28, 2015

4. Ibid.

5. RailPol, Austria, as Posted August 30, 2015

6. New York Times, Migrant Crisis Tests Core European Value: Open Borders, August 31, 2015

7. Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty, Hungary Reverses Decision To Suspend Key EU Asylum Rule, July 24, 2015

8. Department of Homeland Security, Annual Flow Report, May 2014

9. BBC News, Why is EU Struggling With Migrants and Asylum? August 28, 2015

10. CNN Politics, Supreme Court Mostly Rejects Arizona Immigration Law; Gov Says 'Heart' Remains, June 26, 2012