49 persons were caught entering Malta with false documents since the start of 2016, with 14 people being caught while Schengen was temporarily closed, the Police have confirmed with The Malta Independent.
The numbers show that 28% of people using false documents were caught during a 20-day period when Schengen was suspended – between 21 January 2017 to 9 February 2017 - while the remaining 35 were caught throughout the rest of the year. This indicates that more people using false documents can cross borders undetected when Schengen is in place.
Police Inspector Victor Aquilina, during his prosecution of an individual who was caught using false documents while Schengen was suspended admitted that “ever since the borders were closed, these cases have been happening on a daily basis.”
The Schengen Agreement, which was established in 1995, is based on the creation of a single external border and a single set of rules policing that border. Non-EU nationals who have a Schengen visa generally do not have ID checks once they are travelling inside the zone.
This presents a challenging issue, with undocumented travel by asylum seekers or irregular economic migrants becoming common place within the Schengen area.
In fact, one woman who was caught using false documents during the last suspension of Schengen had informed a court that she had entered and exited Malta a number of times using her fake ID.
Another man, aged 17, had told the court that he had travelled to Barcelona from Milan using his false documents, before being caught in Malta.
Critics of the system have long insisted that the Schengen agreement, much like many other EU policies, needs to be re-examined in order to reflect the current political reality.
It is firstly important to recognize that the free movement of people and the Schengen Agreement are two distinct concepts. In fact six EU member states do not form part of the Schengen Agreement which are Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Ireland, Romania and the UK.
What is interesting is that these countries, namely the UK and Ireland, form part of the more beneficial aspects of the agreement such as the Schengen Information System (SIS), but refrain from accepting its open border policy.
The SIS enables police forces across Europe to share data on law enforcement. It includes data on stolen cars, court proceedings and missing persons.
Ultimately, the fundamental freedom of movement within the EU’s single market should be respected and praised as a cornerstone to the EU’s achievment, but complete open borders through the Schengen agreement presents a wider issue throughout all of Europe.
In a climate where border security is a hot political issue, it certainly seems odd, for EU and non-EU individuals to be able to zip through foreign countries so effortlessly.
The 13 November 2015 Paris attacks, which killed 130 people, and the 19 December 2016 Berlin Attack have prompted an urgent rethink of the Schengen agreement after the assailants were able to travel through Europe so easily with the former, Anis Amri travelling through Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium and France before reaching Italy.
In fact since the start of 2016 France, Austria, Denmark, Germany, Norway and Sweden temporarily imposed controls on some or all of their borders with other Schengen states.
This certainly raises questions about the survival of one of the EU's most prized achievements at a time of mounting popular disillusion with the bloc in general.
This has lead to a number of EU governments facing stern competition in forthcoming elections against nationalists who believe that Europe’s open internal borders have lead to uncontrolled undocumented migration, and are partly to blame for the Islamist bloodshed in Berlin, Brussels and Paris.
In fact, on 22 February 2017, EU officials backed proposals, sponsored by Germany and France, to tighten European security rules, including extending emergency border control inside Schengen.
“The persistence of the terrorist threat and the effectiveness of the currently [reinstated] border controls at [the EU’s] internal borders demonstrate the need to review the Schengen Borders Code… in the event of a serious threat to the public order or internal security,” German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere and his French counterpart, Bruno Le Roux, wrote in a joint letter detailing the proposals.
"Security and freedom are two sides of the same coin. Instead of relying on catchy populist slogans, we should continue, and deepen, the ongoing work on internal security to better protect European citizens," the two ministers said.
EU Home Affairs Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos said he welcomed the proposals, describing them as "in line with" the Commission's thinking.
The proposal also calls for closer cooperation, better data-sharing, the increase ability to impose national frontier checks inside Shengen, more cooperation in tracking the movements of terrorism suspects, EU states exchanging airline passenger data and instituting systematic checks on the identities of not just foreigners but also EU citizens.
Contacted by this newspaper, Aditus Foundation director Neil Falzon said that the apprehension of persons as they attempt to violate Schengen rules should not lead to a conclusion that the rules needs to be revised.
"Freedom of movement of persons is at the heart of the European Union, a value wholly ingrained in mutual trust and solidarity that the EU Member States pledge to eachother. It is also a fundamental freedom that all persons within the EU territory are entitled to. We do not think that the activities of 14 persons warrant a revision of such a core EU value, since the numbers and the nature of their activities are actually insignificant."
"We do think, however, that Schengen rules could be revised in terms of their limited application to refugees. We feel that the true spirit of EU solidarity should allow refugees to move and establish themselves from one EU Member State to another, at least after a required time in the Member State responsible for their asylum applications. The requirement to remain in that same Member State - almost ad infinitum - denies the possibility of personal and social growth and reduces persons to mere commodities."
Questions sent to the Ministry for Foreign Affairs were not answered by the time of going to print.