Ahead of an EU Justice and Home Affairs Ministers meeting on 9-10 June to discuss the reform of the Schengen Borders Code, a coalition of almost 40 NGOs, in a joint statement, denounces the risk of more racial profiling and other fundamental rights violations under the proposed new rules.
The Schengen Borders Code regulates border controls at the internal and external borders of the Schengen area, and essentially prohibits internal checks as a rule, with some limited exceptions. The reform – proposed by the Commission in December 2021 and currently being discussed by the EU Council and the Parliament – maintains this general prohibition on internal checks on paper, but at the same time allows police to carry out checks at internal border areas to “prevent irregular migration” (Recitals 18 and 21 and Article 23).
Since systematic checks are prohibited, it is clear that “random” document checks will depend on police’s decisions about who “looks like” a person without valid papers. Research (see Notes) has already shown that police tend to stop people for checks based on racial, ethnic, or religious characteristics: the new Schengen Borders Code will exacerbate this trend of racial profiling.
The new Code also introduces the possibility for joint police patrols to apprehend people caught without a valid document at internal borders, detain them for up to 24 hours and transfer them to the EU state they think the person came from, without any individual assessment. This “internal pushback” and the ensuing detention would also apply to children, even though this has been deemed illegal by courts and despite international consensus that child detention constitutes a human rights violation.
The proposal escalates the use of monitoring and surveillance technologies like biometric identification technologies and AI-based automated decision-making systems that do not apply relevant safeguards and would be at odds with existing EU data protection legislation and the currently debated Artificial Intelligence Act.
Lastly, the new Code introduces measures that would limit the possibility for people to seek asylum in the EU in situations of “instrumentalisation of migration”. In particular, the reform steps up Frontex’s involvement and allows member states to limit the number of border crossing points and their opening hours, and to intensify border surveillance including through drones, motion sensors and border patrols.
According to Marta Gionco, Advocacy Officer at the Platform for International Cooperation on Undocumented Migrants (PICUM), “As it stands now, the new Schengen Borders Code would turn the Schengen area into a tech-controlled space where racial profiling gets de facto legitimised, access to asylum is curtailed and freedom of movement is undermined”.
Stephanie Pope, EU Migration Policy Advisor, Oxfam International: “For years, European leaders have shut their eyes to pushbacks. Now the EU is going one step further with an attempt to legalise and legitimise them and other human rights violations happening at Europe’s borders. Where is the condemnation? Where is the commitment to human rights? Pushbacks cannot be accepted as the norm and cannot be legalised.”
Hope Barker, Senior Policy Analyst from the Border Violence Monitoring Network: “In conjunction with other legislative documents of the New Pact, such as provisions for pre-screening procedures that rely heavily on the arbitrary detention of POM and the failed attempts at implementing an IBMM in Croatia and Greece, the SBC reform contributes to the emergent paradigm in European migration policy that frames movement as a security concern in order to justify disregard for fundamental human rights provisions”.
NOTES TO THE EDITORS:
- EU Justice and Home Affairs Ministers are meeting on 9-10 June to discuss various issues related to their portfolios, including the new Schengen Borders Code. The provisional agenda can be read here.
- The full civil society joint statement, including key recommendations, can be read here.
- 2021 research from the EU Fundamental Rights Agency shows that people from an ethnic minority are disproportionately affected by police stops, both when they are walking and when in a vehicle. 2014 research also from the EU Fundamental Rights Agency showed that 79% of surveyed border guards at airports rate ethnicity as a helpful indicator to identify people attempting to enter the country in an irregular manner before speaking to them.
- PICUM is a Brussels-based network of over 160 NGOs working to advance the rights of undocumented people.
- For interviews and other media requests, please contact PICUM’s Communications Officer Gianluca Cesaro at firstname.lastname@example.org
Cover: Alexander Lupin – Adobe Stock