EU to tighten border checks to try to detect Syria fighters

Greek border police. File photo

European countries will carry out by June deeper checks on EU citizens entering the passport-free Schengen area, based on a set of “common risk indicators” aimed at singling out fighters returning from war zones and other dangerous people.

European Union home affairs ministers agreed on Thursday to enhance controls at the borders of the Schengen area following a call by EU leaders for stricter checks after the Islamist attack on French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo.

Border control authorities will use the risk indicators “when conducting systematic checks on persons,” said EU home affairs commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos.

Officials declined to give details of the indicators, citing security concerns, although they did say that the indicators may target certain flights.

The indicators will allow a sort of profiling of potentially dangerous individuals, said one EU official.

“The list is being finalised with Interpol in the coming weeks and will be implemented with the support of Frontex (the EU border control agency),” Avramopoulos told a press conference.

Mehdi Nemmouche, a 29-year-old Frenchman believed to have returned recently from fighting with Islamist militants in Syria, was arrested last May over the killing of four people at the Jewish Museum in Brussels, raising fears about the threat posed by thousands of Europeans who have gone to Syria.

When the new protocols are in place, suspects will have their documents checked electronically against a database of security agencies.

At present, only about 30 percent of passports presented by travellers entering or leaving the Schengen area are checked electronically to see if they are lost, stolen or counterfeit.

A further step may be the introduction of checks on all EU citizens entering the Schengen area, but ministers have decided not to go further with this option for now as it may significantly prolong waiting times in airports.


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