Europe’s cross-border train services could be scrapped if the Schengen system collapses in the face of the migrant crisis, the head of Germany’s national railway has claimed.
It comes as Hungary’s foreign minister warned that terror threats will increase and public safety will deteriorate unless the European Union builds a ‘strong southern defence line’ to stop the flow of migrants.
The borderless travel zone has come under increasing strain in recent months, with several countries imposing at least partial border checks in the wake of the migrant influx, as they are allowed to do temporarily.
The chief executive of German railway operator Deutsche Bahn, Ruediger Grube, was quoted Tuesday as telling the Bild daily: ‘The freedom of movement of the Schengen agreement is the basis of our international train service.’
He added that ‘if borders are closed, the railway will have to discontinue connections to foreign countries. The checks and delays that would then be incurred would not be sustainable.’
It comes after EU leaders announced teams of border guards to be deployed in order to stop migrants leaving Greece for the rest of the EU, effectively cutting the country off from the rest of the continent.
The scheme – which effectively suspends Greece’s membership of the Schengen zone – was designed during an emergency meeting to finally halt the free flow of migrants arriving by boat into mainland Europe.
European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker backed a proposal to strengthen security on the Greek/Macedonian border to create a ‘second line of defence’ against migration.
Hungary’s foreign minister Peter Szijjarto said Tuesday after a meeting with Croatian counterpart Miro Kovac that if the line of defence cannot be created at Greece’s southern border, then it must come about at Greece’s northern borders with Macedonia and Bulgaria.
Szijjarto said Europe is ‘currently defenceless’ because of the uncontrolled flow of migrants and that ‘we agree with all those who say the external borders must be fortified.’
Hungary last year built fences on its southern borders with Serbia and Croatia, preventing migrants or refugees from entering the country from the Balkans after construction was completed by mid-October.
The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) said on Tuesday that 368 people died trying to cross the Mediterranean last month, nearly one in six of them children.
More than 62,000 people crossed the Aegean in January – over 90 percent of them from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq – and 272 died on that route. Another 5,000 people crossed the central Mediterranean from Libya to Italy.
IOM spokesman Joel Millman said 60 children younger than 18 were among those who died, bringing the total to 330 children who have died on the Mediterranean in the last five months.
Millman told reporters Tuesday in Geneva that the proportion of unaccompanied minors has ‘grown enormously.’ Nearly 20,000 made the crossing last month, or about one-third of the total – up from a rate of about one in seven in 2015.