When is it unlawful to cross EU borders? The European Union has established a set of criteria that define what constitutes illegal entrance into EU territory. Each Member State, however, has its own administrative sanctions for certain circumstances.
To understand Europe’s migration predicament, it is necessary to first define what constitutes an unlawful border crossing.
The Schengen Area operates as a single country, with border checks exclusively at its exterior borders and no inspections within member countries. In this sense, crossing external Schengen borders into a member state without the proper authorization or documents is an unlawful border crossing in Europe.
The Schengen Borders Code establishes a consistent set of standards for external border checks on individuals, entrance criteria, and the duration of brief visits in the Schengen Area for European Member States. These standards have been harmonised in order to improve the efficiency and transparency of border control.
These offences are taken quite harshly in Europe. However, the penalty of unlawful entrance when immigrants cross the border without following these procedures may differ from state to state.
IS CROSSING THE BORDER ILLEGAL IN EUROPE?
Internal borders between Schengen territories were abolished with the establishment of the Schengen Area. However, unrestricted mobility inside the European Union does not imply a loss of security.
The criteria for entering Europe vary according on a passenger’s nationality, the purpose of their travel, and the length of their stay.
For short travels of less than 90 days, whether the tourist enters Europe for vacation, business, or transit, the following rules apply:
- Non-EU citizens from ETIAS eligible countries such as the United States of America, Australia, Canada, Japan, and others can currently cross the external Schengen borders with just their passports.
- From November 2023 onwards, when the ETIAS is scheduled to be launched, they will be asked to register online for an ETIAS before their departure towards the EU.
- Non-EU citizens from countries that do not have a visa waiver agreement with the Schengen Area need to have a valid Schengen visa as well as their passport and other requirements to cross the external borders of the Schengen Area.
The European Travel Information and Authorisation System, or ETIAS, was approved in 2016 with the primary goal of improving security within the Schengen Area. This more modern and efficient system will also help Europe combat illegal border crossings.
“Is it unlawful to cross the border?” inquire travellers. We now have a clearer answer: it is unlawful for travellers to enter the European Union if they do not meet the entrance requirements.
However, the legislation prohibiting illegal border crossings does not apply to asylum seekers, nor does it address their controlled entry. This is because these individuals frequently lack the requisite papers and/or enter the Schengen Area through illegal border crossing points.
In Europe, irregular immigrants are denied entry into Schengen member countries, while asylum applicants are not.
WHAT HAPPENS TO ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS IN EUROPE?
Illegal border crossing is regarded very severely in Europe, especially when criminals repeat their activities after being ordered expelled, deported, or otherwise fined.
Several Schengen Member States exempt undocumented asylum seekers from fines if they apply on time or otherwise qualify for international protection.
WHAT IS THE CHARGE FOR ILLEGAL BORDER CROSSING?
Exemptions, like punishment and financial penalties, differ from one Schengen country to the next. The table below displays the monetary fines and jail sentences that are applicable in the various EU Member States.
EU COUNTRIES WHERE ILLEGAL ENTRY IS A CRIME
Several EU nations consider unlawful entrance to be a crime, which implies they have imposed punishment or administrative consequences in specific cases:
|Country||Is Illegal Entry a Crime?||Prescribed Punishment or Administrative Penalties|
|Austria||Yes||Fine or imprisonment for up to 6 weeks. No punishment for persons recognized as in need of protection or refugees. Administrative prosecution process suspended during asylum application process.|
|Belgium||Yes||8 days to 3 months of imprisonment, fine, or both for first illegal entry; 1-month to 1-year imprisonment, fine, or both for repeat offenders or previously deported persons during the last 10 years.|
|Czech Republic||No||Illegal border crossing punishable by imprisonment of 1 to 5 years only if threat or violence used.|
|Denmark||Yes||Monetary fine or up to 6 months’ or 3 years’ imprisonment, depending on the crime. Entering/exiting outside of designated border crossings punishable with monetary fines or imprisonment; repeat offenders subject to a more severe sentence. Persons who illegally enter to seek asylum not punished.|
|Estonia||Yes||Imprisonment of up to 1 year or fine; enhanced prison term for aggravating circumstances. Up to 10 years of imprisonment for carrying weapons, or endangering human life or property while entering illegally.|
|Finland||Yes||Monetary fines or up to 1 year of imprisonment, depending on the crime. Illegally crossing the border or reentering in violation of deportation punishable with fines or imprisonment of up to 1 year. Asylum seekers or victims of human trafficking not punished for illegal entry.|
|France||Yes||1 year of imprisonment and/or fine; 3 years’ imprisonment for illegal reentry. Unless perpetrator is caught in act of illegal entry, or immediately afterwards, charges can´t be brought; undocumented immigrants prosecuted for unlawful stay.|
|Germany||Yes||Imprisonment of up to 1 year or fine. Criminal charges can be avoided by immediately seeking asylum.|
|Greece||Yes||Fine and imprisonment for at least 3 months, deportation with or without detention. Persons not dangerous or a flight risk may be asked to self-deport within max. 30 days. Asylum seekers and refugees not deported.|
|Hungary||Yes||Imprisonment of up to 8 years, deportation, and reentry ban.|
|Iceland||Yes||Monetary fines or up to 6 months’ imprisonment. Entering, re-entering, or residing illegally subject to fine or 6 months’ imprisonment. Persons arriving directly from region where persecuted are exempt.|
|Italy||No||Fine; 5 to 15 years’ imprisonment and fine for aggravating circumstances. Penalties for illegal entry of non-EU persons, reentry after expulsion, reentry of previously removed EU citizens, and stay following the expiration of residence permit. Penalties increased if aggravating circumstances present.|
|Liechtenstein||No||Fine. Administrative offence. Immigration and Passport Office responsible for illegal entry offences unless an individual is repeat offender, in which case Court of First Instance (Landgericht) is the responsible authority.|
|Lithuania||Yes||Imprisonment for up to 2 years, detention, or fine. Asylum seekers not punished.|
|Luxembourg||Yes||8 days to 1-year imprisonment, fine, or both; 6 months to 1-year imprisonment, fine, or both for illegal reentry. 1 month to 2 years’ imprisonment, fine, or both if entering illegally with forged papers.|
|Netherlands||Illegal entry, no; failure to present travel document, yes.||Imprisonment up to 6 months or fine. Criminal penalty when a person fails to present a valid travel document, illegal entry not penalized.|
|Norway||Yes||Monetary fines, or up to 6 months’ or 2 years’ imprisonment, depending on the crime. Entry outside designated border crossing from non-Schengen country or residence without proper documentation subject to fine or 6 months’ imprisonment. Reentry after expulsion punishable with fine or imprisonment for up to 2 years. Timely asylum seekers exempt.|
|Poland||Yes||Imprisonment of up to 2 years or fine. Illegal entry by groups or using violence face stricter penalties.|
|Slovakia||No||Varied administrative fines.|
|Sweden||Yes||Monetary fines, or up to 6 months or 1 year of imprisonment depending on the offense. Timely asylum seekers exempt.|
|Switzerland||Yes||Imprisonment of up to 1 year or fine.|
EU AND FRONTEX: BORDER CONTROL MISSION
Frontex, the European Border and Coast Guard Agency, is responsible for coordinating and promoting effective European border management.
Any increase in illicit border crossings is reason for alarm in Europe, and border control is a priority: the EU announced in 2019 a new law bolstering Frontex, allocating an additional 10,000 guards.
Regular border control is managed by individual member states; Frontex provides additional support at high-risk borders through joint operations, rapid interventions, and sea rescues.
ILLEGAL BORDER CROSSING STATISTICS
EU member states have recently voiced alarm about an upsurge in illicit border crossings. While the numbers had fallen owing to COVID-19 limitations, Frontex has recorded a surge to the greatest level since the 2016 migrant crisis.
Statistics on illegal border crossings indicate fluctuating trends, with some locations having increasing activity and others witnessing a dramatic decline. Frontex currently has 1,200 officers and employees stationed at EU external borders to address the surge in unlawful crossings in particular locations.
HOW MANY ILLEGAL BORDER CROSSINGS PER MONTH?
According to preliminary data, there were around 40,300 attempted unlawful border crossings between January and March of 2022, a 57% increase over the same time the previous year.
In March 2022, the EU’s external borders registered around 11,700 unlawful crossings, 29% more than in the same month in 2021.
WHERE ARE THE MOST ILLEGAL BORDER CROSSINGS?
The Western Balkans region of the EU has the highest number of unlawful border crossings. According to Frontex, there has been an uptick in irregular border crossings along the Western Balkans route, with 18,300 identified in the first three months of 2022.
Migrants cross the region’s southern common borders with Greece and Bulgaria before attempting to exit to the north via Croatia, Hungary, or Romania’s borders with Serbia. The vast majority of illegal migrants discovered were Syrian and Afghan nationals.
The Eastern Mediterranean migration route is the next most important. According to Frontex illegal border crossing statistics, there were 7,000 detected crossings in the region between January and March of 2022.