LONDON: Visitors from Arab countries traveling to the EU will be among those subject to new border regulations amid heightened security concerns in Europe.
The European Parliament this week gave the go-ahead on an electronic entry-exit system (EES) that will store biometric information for non-EU visitors traveling across country borders in the Schengen Zone.
The new system, which is part of the "Smart Borders" package proposed in April 2016, will make it easier to detect document or identity fraud as well as those who over-run the short stay limit of 90 days in any 180 day period. It will also do away with the need to stamp passports manually and speed up border crossings.
“The Entry/Exit System will allow for quicker and safer border crossings,” said the Parliament’s rapporteur Agustin Diaz de Mera. “It will also help to detect terrorists and other criminals hiding behind a false identity.”
A report released last week by The Soufan Group raised concerns surrounding the security threat posed by thousands of Daesh fighters returning to their home countries from Syria and Iraq.
The research estimated that at least 425 British Daesh members have already returned to the UK – the largest group in Europe.
At least 5,600 foreign fighters are believed to have returned home, the Soufan Center said, including 271 of the 1,910 who left from France, 400 of the 3,417 from Russia and 760 of the 3,244 fighters from Saudi Arabia.
While some hailed the new virtual borders scheme as a positive step toward boosting EU border security and improving cooperation between authorities, others said it went against European values and undermined the right to privacy.
In September 2016, the office of the European Data Protection Supervisor warned that the EES data storage was potentially intrusive and raised concerns that it was not in accordance with the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights.
MEP Marie-Christine Vergia said that the texts of the reports debated in Parliament this week “were originally intended to facilitate border crossing for the 50 million third-country nationals who come to the EU each year.
However, this is now primarily a system for identifying people in irregular immigration situations and facilitating deportations,” New Europe reported.
Others have criticized the project’s cost, estimated at $567 million by the EU.
Ben Hayes, of the London-based civil liberties group Statewatch, told the EU Observer that it was, “the most expensive exercise to collect migration statistics in the history of the world.”
Under the new system, information including name, travel document, fingerprints, facial image, date and place will be recorded when non-EU nationals enter, exit or are refused entry into the Schengen area. This will be retained for three years, or five years for those who overstay.
European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) Group spokesman, Jussi Halla-aho, said: “If we are to ensure that our external borders and immigration systems are properly controlled then a modernized Schengen area benefitting from electronic data collection is essential.”
Data stored in the new system will be accessible to border and visa authorities, as well as Europol, but not to national asylum authorities. Development on the system is expected to begin this year with the aim of having it operational by 2020.