Traveling to Europe During the Refugee Crisis?

Here's How to Follow the Situation

Syrian Refugees in Vienna by: Josh Zakary (CC)
Syrian Refugees in Vienna by: Josh Zakary (CC)

European countries have recently introduced new border and transportation controls as they grapple with the massive number of refugee arrivals. As a result, a few travel routes between and within countries have become restricted. However, due to constant changes in policy and enforcement, current disruptions and delays in one locale may be resolved by next week, while new disruptions and delays may occur elsewhere.

At the time of writing, travel restrictions were in place in a limited number of European destinations. If you’re planning a trip to Europe over the next few months, there are a few recent policy changes to be aware of and a couple of resources to turn to for the latest information on travel disruptions and delays.

Border Checks: Keep Your Passport Handy

Most European Union countries and a few non-EU countries are party to the Schengen Agreement, which allows for passport-free travel between its member states. This means that you only need to show proper documentation when first entering the Schengen area; after you enter, you can move freely from country to country without presenting your identification or passport. However, the Schengen Agreement also permits its members to reintroduce border checks for security purposes. For a more detailed explanation of this agreement and the conditions under which countries can suspend free movement across their borders, see this BBC article.

Recently, Germany has reintroduced controls along its border with Austria, and Austria along its border with Hungary, in order to stem the flow of refugees. Nevertheless, this development should not concern travelers looking to cross into Germany from Austria and Austria from Hungary. Crossing these borders simply requires the presentation of proper documentation and perhaps a wait.

As for Hungary, it has temporarily closed its Horgos and Backi Vinogradi crossings with Serbia, but the Kelebija and Backi Breg crossings remain open with an expected wait time of about 20 minutes.

Traveling by Train: Most Services Running Normally, Some Lines Suspended

If planning to travel by train within Europe, especially Central Europe, you’ll want to keep a close eye on service availability. Currently, night trains between Budapest and Western Europe are not running. Problems at the border between Greece and the Republic of Macedonia have also disrupted the Thessaloniki-Belgrade train, with Greek Railways offering bus transportation instead. Danish Railways has just renewed its suspended service to and from Germany, though delays are occurring.

Interrail is providing updates on train disruptions and delays, making it a good resource to use if you plan to travel by train during your Europe vacation.

Other Sources of Information on the Refugee Situation’s Impact on European Travel

Aside from a handful of rallies and demonstrations in support of or against refugee arrivals, the situation has thus far had little impact on everyday life in European cities and towns. Arrivals continue to swell, however, raising the possibility of local disruptions in popular tourist destinations. To keep apprised of the situation, it helps to follow the news and travel forums, with the latter providing information from local inhabitants and other travelers. A few forums to check include:

As of writing, refugee arrivals have not made a major impact on travelers’ Europe holiday plans. If you’re traveling to Europe during the refugee crisis, following the situation using the resources provided in this article can help you plan accordingly.