The Schengen area allows individuals to travel freely and without border controls around 26 European states - the majority of which are EU members. With the influx of refugees into Europe in 2014 and 2015, border controls were reintroduced in some of these countries and were just recently extended. The tightening of border controls means that there will be more restrictions on movement between these states.
The Schengen agreement was implemented on March 26, 1995 and is named after its birthplace - the town of Schengen in Luxembourg. Prior to that date, borders in Europe were patrolled by border agents and border crossings were in active use across the continent. At each of these crossings, passports and identity documents were checked with all individuals approaching the border, often leading to extensive delays in travel.
Since the introduction of the Schengen area, the majority of EU countries as well as three non-EU member states (Switzerland, Iceland and Norway) now share a common visa policy, whereby internal border posts between these countries not longer exist.
Freedom of travel
This means that when travelling between Schengen countries, passports or visas don't need to be shown anymore. In fact, the only time an individual has to show a travel document in the Schengen are is when they are entering the first Schengen country. This is known as the area's outer border.
When entering their first Schengen country at the outer border, the individual will receive a stamp in their passport issued by the country they enter. When crossing further borders within the Schengen zone, no documents will be checked and no further stamps issued.
This freedom of travel within the Schengen area is available to nationals of all countries once they are admitted into the Schengen zone. However, different rules apply to different nationalities, and while some people may be able to enter the Schengen area without a visa others will need to have a visa to one of the 26 Schengen states. Once you are in the Schengen zone, it is still advised to carry your passport or national identity card with you if you are travelling between Schengen countries - as a precautionary measure.
The Schengen area encompasses over 400 million people within its borders.
Here is an overview of the Schengen member states: https://www.schengenvisainfo.com/schengen-visa-countries-list/
Current refugee situation
Due to the refugee crisis, several Schengen member states have opted to routinely boost their border controls. As over a million refugees poured into Europe in 2015, Germany temporarily closed its borders with Austria in order to get a better grip on this influx.
The Schengen agreement stipulated that member countries are allowed to reintroduce border checks temporarily for up to six months for security reasons. These can even be extended to up to two years when facing major challenges - such as the ongoing migrant crisis. The European Commission hopes to end these extensions in November 2017- as the flow of migrants into Europe has significantly decreased over the past 12 months.
Some member states, however, might consider a renewal of the border controls for up to three years, as fears of growing terrorism have also started to play a role in these considerations. After terrorists killed 130 people in Paris in November 2015, France introduced emergency border controls.
EU Interior Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos has spoken out against these suggestions earlier in October 2017, saying that "when Schengen dies, Europe dies."
Traveling Europe as a refugee?
Refugees arriving in EU countries often receive a temporary permit while waiting to be granted asylum status. This permit does not usually allow them to move between Schengen states. It is illegal for refugees to travel to another Schengen country, and might reflect negatively on the asylum application if transgressions against these rules were to be found out.
Once granted asylum status, they may travel around the Schengen area using their asylum documentation. In Germany, for example, when a refugee is granted asylum, they receive a blue pass, which allows them to mover freely around the Schengen area.
Click here to read more about the Blue Pass.