Sweden’s move on Thursday to introduce temporary border controls to help manage the flow of migrants – the latest EU member to do so – could create a knock-on effect in northern Germany through which many Sweden-bound refugees pass.
Meanwhile, EU President Donald Tusk said the Swedish decision as well as Germany’s recent signals that it will send Syrian refugees to other member states showed “with utmost clarity the huge pressure member states are facing.”
The European Union is in a “race against time” to save its prized Schengen free-travel area, he warned after two days of migration talks with African leaders in the Maltese capital Valletta.
While several leaders at the Mata summit cautioned against unilateral measures, there were reports of a spat over a fence built by Slovenia to ease the flow of migrants that neighbouring Croatia claimed encroached on its territory.
Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven, who also attended the Malta summit, defended his country’s decision that took effect at midday, saying it was necessary “to keep control.”
Lofven said other EU leaders at the summit said they understood the Swedish move.
“They think it’s normal. We’re all in a difficult situation. Sweden has received so many refugees, far more than any other countries per capita,” he said.
Swedish police will “not check everyone” who enters the country, said Patrik Engstrom, head of the Swedish border police unit, but “there will be a random selection.”
Police will mainly focus on the south and west of the country, affecting the Oresund rail and road bridge that connects Sweden to Denmark, used by thousands of vehicles and commuters.
Other focal points were ferry terminals where many people arrive from Germany and Denmark.
In Rostock, a Baltic Sea port in Germany which is a main point of departure to Sweden, some 50 migrants were refused passage on the morning departure for Trelleborg because they did not have valid travel papers, Ulrich Kunze, a municipal spokesman said.
Ferry operator Stena Line, which runs routes to Denmark and Germany, said it introduced identity checks several hours before the Swedish border controls took effect at midday.
Another operator, TT Line, said it has also introduced these steps.
The interior minister of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania state, where the port is located, said accommodation was ready.
“It’s to be expected that persons who cannot leave for Sweden because they don’t have a passport will apply for asylum here,” said Lorenz Caffier, adding about 50 were expected to show up at holding camps and ask for a bed Thursday.
Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite said Sweden is “not the first and the last country probably” to introduce controls as “external borders of EU are not yet at all under control.”
Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann said it was key to avoid solo initiatives, urging more cooperation within the bloc.
Sweden a week ago asked to become a beneficiary of a redistribution scheme within the EU aimed at helping the states most affected by the migration crisis.
The Swedish Migration Agency has forecast that between 140,000 and 190,000 people could apply for asylum this year, far more than last year’s 80,000 bids, straining its efforts to provide accommodation.
The Swedish border control moves were “difficult to assess but it could mean that many heading for Norway will be stopped,” Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg told news agency NTB.
Norway is not a member of the EU but is part of the Schengen zone.
Swedish Home Affairs Minister Anders Ygeman earlier said the measure was to be in place for an initial 10-day period, but “will likely be extended.”
That view was also shared by the head of the Swedish Migration Agency, Anders Danielsson, who underlined that the move was necessary to allow the agency to give priority to its efforts to register unaccompanied minors and families with children.