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European Passport-Free Travel May Be on Its Way Out

The refugee crisis in Europe and beyond has demanded the attention of world travelers for many months now, and the European Union may be about to enact an emergency policy that could directly affect anyone traversing Europe in the next six months. There’s been buzz about restricting passport-free travel in Europe since a wave of terror attacks raised security concerns late last year, but this is the first time there’s been news of a possible restriction.

Passports could soon be required to travel between some of the 26 countries in the Schengen Area as an emergency measure to address the staggering number of migrants fleeing to Europe, the Associated Press reports. (The Schengen agreement dissolved internal European borders in 1995, allowing uninterrupted travel across much of the region. )

Two decades later, the EU may increase security and passport checks at borders to stem passages into Europe, mainly through Greece. The European Commission announced recently that it is re-evaluating Greece’s Schengen status. France, Sweden, Austria, and Germany already partially suspended the agreement soon after the Paris attacks, enacting random document checks at their borders. Those checks may soon become more prevalent.

Here’s what travelers should know about the prospective change:

It wouldn’t necessarily affect all Schengen borders

While lifting the agreement may seem daunting, many countries might not choose to enact checks. Certain areas of Europe are more susceptible to border traffic that would make them more likely to monitor crossings, like the Greek island of Lesbos, which has reportedly seen up to 2,000 migrants passing through daily, and Germany, which took in 1.1 million migrants last year, and is currently embroiled in a debate about their ability to have done so after recent spikes in crime and a sexual assaults.

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There’s no telling exactly where would be affected yet, but the European Commission has been notably critical of Greece’s border control, and Germany and France show no signs of halting the random checks despite being required to do so by May in accord with the Schengen Agreement. That notion may be the reason the EU is considering changes in the first place.

Train travel could become trickier

Rail travel in Europe is immense and therefore bound to be affected. Checks have already impacted Sweden-bound trains, and pose more problems than passport checks in airports, which are better equipped to handle document checks. Train stations have had to set up dozens of checkpoints, which inevitably delay passengers. This could result in a shift away from rail usage and toward air travel—since airports already require security checks to pass through, they’re less likely to be adversely affected by brief document checks.

It’s not likely to remain in effect long-term

The Schengen Agreement requires changes like these to be reevaluated every six months—which is likely why the change is being considered in the first place as countries that enacted random checks approach their six-month mark. But it also makes any future changes likely to be lifted in a matter of months. The Associated Press reported that the emergency measures could be enacted for as long as two years. That stretch could be seen in countries extremely trafficked by migrants, like Greece.

“Greece is seriously neglecting its obligations,” said the EU in a restricted report, according to the Associated Press. “Given the scale of the situation, further efforts are needed.”

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Associate Editor Shannon McMahon is a former news reporter with a penchant for travel. Follow her on Twitter @shanmcmahon_.

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