Intensified border checks cause major delays

pariThe situation at the Swiss-French border near Geneva on November 16 Keystone

As a result of increased border checks after terror attacks in Paris, waiting times at typically porous crossings have ballooned for the 25,000 cars that move between France and the Geneva region every day.

This content was published on November 16, 2015 - 15:30 and agencies

A spokesperson for the Swiss border police told Swiss public radio and television RTS on Monday that French police are checking all cars entering France at four main crossings near Geneva following the closure of French borders after terror attacks in Paris on Friday. However, he said that Swiss police are not operating with the same mandate. 

“We [in Switzerland] still have Schengen controls in place,” said Walter Pavel of the border police. “That means we don’t do systematic checks, but we have increased [the number] of checks.”

Pavel added that Switzerland generally conducts more checks than other European countries because it is not part of the European Union and regulates the imports of goods.

“We still have to do merchandise checks…and if needed those could also involve checking people if someone is suspicious.” 

The Islamic State (IS) group has claimed responsibility for Friday’s attacks on a stadium, a concert hall and Paris cafés that left 129 people dead and more than 350 wounded, 99 of them seriously – including a Swiss woman who was flown back home via Swiss air rescue service REGA on Monday afternoon. 

Thousands of commuters

Thousands of cars pass between France and Switzerland every day, with some 100,000 cross-border workers commuting between the two countries. 

Normally, waiting times at major border crossings into France is short or non-existent. But after France closed its borders in an emergency measure on Friday, those times swelled to delays of an hour or more in some places. 

However, the checks are not consistent across all border crossings, with Pavel explaining that “mobile patrols” are monitoring the other 22 points at which people can cross between Switzerland and France. Some were surprised at the lack of security. 

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Pavel admitted that the border police had been forced to re-assign officers from other crossings in Switzerland, such as regions near Austria and Italy, to the border with France due to a lack of resources. He said the situation is particularly acute given the higher number of refugees entering Switzerland on the eastern and southern borders.

The head of the border police, Jürg Noth, said he thinks it’s possible to make do with the resources at hand.

"I believe that we can overcome the current situation with the resources we have," he told Swiss public television, SRF.  "[But] if the situation worsened massively, I think we would need help from partner organisations, like from the cantonal police forces or…the military police."

Army support

Politicians are divided over how to address the border police shortage, with Defence Minister Ueli Maurer calling for intensifying controls. One option is calling on the army for help. 

“Soldiers aren’t prepared well enough for such specialised tasks,” parliamentarian Evi Allemann of the leftwing Social Democrats told SRF. “We need to train specialised forces for the long term, as we’ll continue to have this problem for a long time.” 

However, her colleague Philipp Müller of the centre-right Radicals said the situation had come to a head. 

“We’ve been asking for more border police for years to no avail,” he said. “In this situation we have to ask the army to lend logistical support to the border police.”

When asked how long the intensified border controls would continue along the border with France, Pavel of the border police said “it depends on how the situation develops”.

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