Border controls, scrapped in 1991, were reintroduced last week as part of the government’s strategy to launch a pre-emptive strike against hooliganism and terrorism in the forthcoming Euro 2004 tournament. According to reports, 50,000 people are expected to travel from England to watch the matches, but nearly 2,700 people are now the subject of banning orders that will prevent them from travelling. During Euro 2000, the number of banning orders in place was just 100.
British Home Office Minister, Caroline Flint, says her department has been liaising with Portuguese authorities to ensure close inspections of travellers: “The Portuguese have made it clear that anyone else who is known to pose a risk to public order will be denied entry. We believe we’ve done everything we can to ensure a safe and enjoyable tournament. We are determined not to let a thuggish minority ruin the tournament for genuine supporters.” It is also understood that a team of Portuguese immigration and border police will be stationed in England during the tournament to expedite decision-making by Portuguese authorities on whether to allow fans into the country.
The Schengen accords, which ended the inspection of passports between EU border states, has now been temporarily reversed. But The Resident now understands that the reintroduction of controls does not imply closure. The temporary measure, decided by the government on May 12, was introduced at midnight, on May 26, and will remain in place until July 4, covering both From page 1
Euro 2004 and also the Rock in Rio concert. Accordingly, all EU citizens, as well as citizens of Ireland, Norway, Liechenstein and Switzerland, who enter Portugal will be obliged to have in their possession either a passport or valid identification. But sources from the Serviço de Estrangeiros e Fronteiras (SEF) indicated that control of the frontiers will be enforced through mobile units and without the formal restoration of closed borders.
SEF REFUSES ENTRY
Early reports indicated that, on the first day of the border controls, 179 people were refused entry into the country.According to Marília Neres, from the SEF’s Public Relations Office, the people turned away were either illegally occupying the Schengen area or they were without the relevant documentation to enter the country. The SEF refused entry to 10 people in the north, 22 in the centre, 72 in the Alentejo and 75 in the Algarve, especially in Castro Marim and Vila Real de Santo António.
A spokesperson from the SEF’s Press Office told The Resident reporter GABRIEL HERSHMAN that it is up to the discretion of border officers to select the vehicles they check. “We’re certainly reintroducing border controls, but they will only be at certain times – they will stop and then start again at random. We are operating according to a plan, but we are not going to reveal what it is.”
A spokesperson from the Ministry of Internal Administration also confirmed to The Resident that the revoking of the Schengen accords was never meant to imply formal closure. “We are reluctant to divulge operational procedures. Obviously, not every vehicle passing through will be checked. You would have to wait hours and hours if that was the case so, basically, it depends.”
It is this somewhat casual manner of inspection that has surprised observers. At the frontier of Caia (Évora), for example, from last Tuesday onwards, entry into Portugal was via only one lane of the highway and in slow progression, with the GNR and officials checking vehicles and people at random.
At the entry point to the Guadiana frontier, on the other hand, entry was described as being “at snail’s pace”, with police monitoring all passing vehicles. Any vehicle that raised the suspicions of the authorities was requested to leave the line. But sources close to the GNR indicated that, at the crossing points of Monção and Melgaço, “there is no type of control whatsoever” and, apparently, the same situation was reported on ferryboats linking Caminha to La Guardia and Cerveira and Goyan, in the north.
Reaction to the new controls was overwhelmingly positive according to authorities. Swiss immigrant Jorge Moreira was one of the drivers ordered to stop in Vilar Formoso, expressing surprise when officials from the SEF asked to see his passport. “I didn’t know anything about this, but if it is because of the Euro 2004 and the Rock in Rio, I’m in agreement. It’s better to lose two minutes at the frontier than to have a disaster later.”
A Dutch couple who arrived in the last few days to take holidays said they were oblivious to the temporary restrictions. “We really like Portugal, but we haven’t been here for 25 years. We had no idea that control had been reintroduced at the frontiers. But, if it is for the good of the country, then I agree with it.”
The assistant inspector of the SEF, Eduardo Sá, said that most people “had a clear idea of the responsibilities of Portugal on the Euro question and are much more mindful of the need for security”. The inspector said early indications showed that only a dozen or so people arriving at Vilar Formoso on the 6.35am train from France were without appropriate documentation. As for vehicle inspections, the official made clear that particular attention was being paid to commercial and passenger vehicles with number plates from France, Switzerland, Germany, Italy and the provinces of Spain.
As Portugal gears up for one of its busiest months in recent years, it is clear that the authorities are taking measures to deal with the threat from potential terrorists and hooligans. The SEF has also officially confirmed to The Resident that security at Portugal’s frontiers will be stepped up markedly after June 9, although operational details are confidential. But whether the measures they have taken will go far enough, remains to be seen.