The Øresund Bridge connects Copenhagen with the southern Swedish city of Malmö. Photo: Christian Liliendahl/Scanpix
Swedish officials said on Thursday morning that temporary border controls introduced in southern Sweden would be extended until next month, as part of ongoing efforts to try and control the flow of refugees crossing into the Nordic country from Denmark.
Spot checks on some train and ferry passengers as well as drivers were first brought in at the end of last year, after the government said that the surge in new arrivals had threatened public order. Controversial mandatory controls on all rail travellers using the region's Øresund Bridge started on January 4th.
The initial checks, which came at the request of Sweden's Migration Agency, began in mid-November and have since been extended in 14 day periods. From now on they will be renewed on a monthly basis, the government said.
“We are moving from an emergency to a planned procedure, and the reason is that the overall assessment is that there is still a risk when it comes to order and security,” Interior Minister Anders Ygeman told the TT news agency.
The introduction of border controls means that for the first time in half a century, Sweden is demanding photo identification for travellers arriving from Denmark and deals a blow to Europe's cherished passport-free Schengen system. Only passports, driving licences and Swedish national identity cards will be accepted by the authorities.
Undocumented refugees coming to Sweden face three choices: to return to the country they came from, seek asylum in Sweden or, for those just passing through Sweden, to choose a different route to their final destination.
The checks on the Øresund Bridge have caused some delays for commuters who live on one side of the crossing but work on the other.
While EU rules allow temporary border controls for up to six months, officials in Brussels have raised concerns about the increased security on Sweden's border and on Denmark's border with Germany, where extra checks have also been introduced by the Danish government.
“We agreed to keep (the measures) to a minimum and return to normal as soon as possible. This means the flows have to be slowed down,” said EU Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos, who called emergency talks in Brussels with officials from Sweden, Denmark and Germany earlier this week.
“We all agreed that Schengen and free movement must be safeguarded,” he added.
Sweden has recently taken in more asylum seekers per capita than any other EU nation — 160,000 asylum requests last year, including 26,000 unaccompanied minors, with 115,000 of them in the last four months. Meanwhile Denmark welcomed around 18,000 refugees in 2015.