The unfairness of being on an island

There are disadvantages to living on an island, but the quality of island life can be its own reward. In Europe, life on an island means you can lose your freedom of movement rights.

This article explains how unfair this is, especially within the context of child custody.

Freedom of movement

One of the European Union’s cherished ‘four freedoms’ is the freedom of movement. You don’t need to get permission to cross your country’s frontiers with another European Union country. No paperwork, no checks, no hassles. (The Schengen zone is the name for the group of countries that allow borderless travel.)

I’m one of those people who has used this countless times.

When I lived in Belgium, I often drove into France and the Netherlands for weekends away. Sometimes it was a mere day trip.

You don’t need to plan, you don’t need a visa and you don’t need a passport.

Photo by Matt Hardy on

A set of wheels, or a train ticket, and you’re on your way.

Here in Prague, I travel to Germany, Austria and Poland. Again, the freedom to wake up on a Saturday morning and choose to have lunch in another country is incredible.

Even if I wasn’t a committed European, I have to say this freedom is worth its weight in gold.

Especially when you come from an island.

Leaving Malta is not as straightforward because the primary way to travel is by air. If nothing else, you need 2 extra hours at the airport.

So why did I say it’s unfair?

Freedom of (conditional) movement

When I say ‘car’ or ‘train’, I’m being precise. If you travel along land frontiers you don’t have any of the hassle that we used to have back in the day.

Travel and trade is simpler now.

But if I have to travel from an island, I’m forced to choose a flight because of geography.

Photo by Sheila on

(Or a boat. If I was a pirate, for example.)

This is where things get tricky because I need to have a passport to travel by air. There is a good reason for this in the shape of the European directive on the use of ‘passenger name record’ data from 20161. Every European Union country transposed this directive into national law. It’s meant to collect information on passengers so they can catch terrorists.

The directive starts off by explaining it is mandatory for flights to or from the EU, not internal flights1. Article 3 then explains that EU countries can apply this to internal flights if they want to as long as they notify the European Commission first1.

Almost all countries have notified the Commission they will do this, including Cyprus, Greece, Italy, Malta, Portugal and Spain – all countries which are islands, or have a number of populated islands2.

Catching terrorists is a good thing.

But if I’m an island-based parent who wants to holiday in Europe with his children, then I need passports for them too.

Photo by Taryn Elliott on

And if, bear with me, I share custody of my children, my ex-partner can deny my child a passport out of spite.

I don’t have real freedom of movement because of anti-terrorist legislation?!

How is this fair?

Freedom to roam around

If you need to inform your ex-partner of your child’s whereabouts, that’s a separate point. In this article, I’m focusing on the need to have identity papers for children to travel.

Things are different on the continent.

In the same situation, I can pack my kids into the back of a car and drive to the next country for a day. No passport and no paperwork needed.

Photo by Jagmeet Singh on

And the same applies for terrorists. Who would risk flying when you can drive from one country to another?

This bears repeating; if I have shared custody of my children and:

  • I live on the continent, then I can enjoy my freedom of movement and my right to a family life by treating my kids to a foreign, but European, holiday.
  • I live on an island, then my ex-partner can be vindictive and hold my children hostage on the island.

(I’m being specific when talking about Europe’s Schengen zone here. Travelling to non-Schengen countries is a different kettle of fish.)

If you think an ex-partner will not be this vindictive, then you’ve never had a bad breakup. And if you think only men, or only women, would do this, you’re wrong.

Spite knows no gender.

Photo by Adhitya Andanu on

So how do we square this circle?

Freedom from geography

Schengen is a brilliant and delightful way to explore our beautiful continent. Countries should apply the rules in the same way, all the time. If I don’t need paperwork to cross from one Schengen country to another, then my method of transportation should be irrelevant.

As it is, the people suffering from this problem are a minority. They’re:

  • People living on islands, who also are
  • People with custody issues on their hands.

In other words, there is a silent minority suffering because there isn’t joined-up thinking when making these rules.

What’s fair about that?


  1. Directive (EU) 2016/681 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 27 April 2016; EUR-LEX; (Retrieved 2020-01-02)
  2. PNR: List of Member States who have decided to apply the Directive (EU) 2016/681 to intra-EU flights; European Commission; 2018-05-31

All references were valid and correct when this article was published. Changes to referenced websites or web pages may render some references invalid. If this is the case, please leave a comment below.

2 thoughts on “The unfairness of being on an island

  1. To be fair, you only need an ID card, not a passport, to get out of Malta. Unless of course you have your own boat and can get out without having to go through security checks.
    However, that’s only a bureaucratic hurdle. The main obstacle to freedom of movement, I think, it financial. When you’re on the continent you can literally walk or ride a bicycle to the neighbouring country. We can’t do that, unless one owns a boat. We rely on ferries that can often be pretty expensive. This is why I think that peripheral island member states should have at least one subsidised ferry link to the mainland, similar to the schemes that many countries have in place for their citizens living on small islands. For instance in Italy, if you’re a resident on Lampedusa or Pantelleria you pay very little to get to terraferma. Likewise, Gozitans pay very little to get to Malta. Why isn’t the EU treating us, Cypriots and the Irish in the same manner?


    1. Expense is certainly a good point and I like your ideas.
      The focus of the article is on passports for children because children don’t have ID cards. I think it is a shame that families in similar situations on the continent have more rights than we do.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s