Border chaos as both Gibraltar and Spain tighten immigration checks

Gibraltar on Monday “reluctantly” began applying reciprocal checks on non-UK citizens crossing the border in response to tighter controls implemented by Spain in recent days.

Documents were scanned on an ‘ad hoc’ basis, much the same as Spanish authorities are doing to non-EU citizens crossing the border.

While some people were able to cross as normal with light checks, others had the passports or ID cards scanned.

Given the volume of traffic at that time, the queues rapidly built up, with some motorbike riders saying they waited over 30 minutes for crossing that is usually swift and relatively hassle free.

There were chaotic scenes on the Spanish side as officers channelled two-wheeled traffic through one lane and vehicles through the other, with irate commuters honking their horns as they tried to organise the flow.

Against the backdrop of talks for a UK/EU treaty on Gibraltar, Spain had adopted a flexible approach to immigration controls at the border for Gibraltar residents with a red ID card.

Spain insists nothing has changed in the criteria it is applying and that the passports of Gibraltar residents with red ID cards were not being stamped, as would be required under Schengen rules.

But even though they are not stamping passports, many Gibraltar residents reported that their ID cards had been scanned in recent days.

Last week the Gibraltar Government said it would monitor the situation and take reciprocal measures if need be.

On Monday, it took that step.

“The latest changes implemented by the Spanish authorities at the frontier are unhelpful,” a spokesperson for No.6 Convent Place told the Chronicle.

“They are causing problems, in particular, for the Spanish frontier workers.”

“Gibraltar has today reluctantly started reciprocal, ad hoc, scanning of non-UK citizens documentation."

Ascteg claims "dialogue" to put an end to the "toxic lapse in relations" between Spain and Gibraltar.

"We hope that this problem is resolved with the utmost urgency and that an end is put to this 'toxic lapse in relations' that benefits no one but affects more than 18,000 workers and traders, families, and lifelong friends of Gibraltar and the region," said Juan José Uceda, spokesperson for the Association of Spanish Workers in Gibraltar (Ascteg) on Monday. This statement followed significant delays, up to 45 minutes, at the border crossing between Spain and Gibraltar during the peak hours of entry for thousands of cross-border workers. This situation was caused by the "narrowing" of a new lane for two-wheeled vehicles proposed by Spain, leading to "long queues" at the border. Spanish authorities claim they communicated this measure to Gibraltar's authorities in writing more than a week ago, requesting collaboration and exploring different options for consensus.

"We are dismayed because this is the first time we have to blame Gibraltar for the queues and border delays. We demand explanations from the Government of Gibraltar and that they thoroughly verify all of this. We are aware that both Mr. Picardo and the other politicians in the Gibraltar government, whom we know well, are the first to reject unnecessary and unfair border delays, just like us. Therefore, we ask that, in this case, given that it seems to be their fault as everything indicates, they do everything possible to prevent this from happening again. We will be closely monitoring this issue because it does a lot of harm to many people," said the Ascteg spokesperson.

Uceda also referred to recent incidents in the Bay of Gibraltar and at this border crossing, calling for common sense and dialogue on the part of the responsible authorities on both sides of the border. "Since we all know that relations are not good, as always happens with fishing matters, we recommend leaving aside the back-and-forth, as it is not appropriate in any of these cases, and this affects relations even more, especially after the great fear that all border workers have with this hard GiBrexit, which is already showing what it can become. We urge them to understand that dialogue must continue, and that they meet, talk to each other, have a drink, and put an end to this 'toxic lapse in relations' as soon as possible."

According to the Association of Spanish Workers in Gibraltar (Ascteg), "this morning, starting at 7:20 a.m., various directors of our association received numerous complaints about the influx of border workers waiting to enter Gibraltar and go to their workplaces at the border, starting at 7:15, with delays of up to approximately 45 minutes later in some cases. That's why we urgently met to gather information, as there was also a less intense test this past Friday," they explained.

"Our Spanish authorities inform us that 15 days ago they sent a notification and request to their counterparts in Gibraltar, informing them of the need for Spain, in order to streamline the passage demanded by more controls from Europe at this external border, to separate four-wheeled vehicles from two-wheeled ones. This would also mean that two-wheeled vehicles would have an easier separate check, facilitating border movement. Our border authorities say that Gibraltar informed them that they would not be adding any more personnel to their control, and therefore, this morning, when the new modification officially took effect, a traffic bottleneck was created as it became a single lane in Gibraltar. An unforeseen and impressive traffic jam occurred, which was a source of great concern for all border workers, the majority of whom are Spanish. They also tell us that, under these circumstances, the Spanish police, overwhelmed by the influx of people, obviously did not request documentation from anyone at any time. This is what Ascteg has been informed," they stated, expressing their "concern" about the attitude of those who control the Gibraltar border.