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17th Feb 2019

Greece struggling to manage asylum seekers

  • Citizens from all other EU candidate countries, except Turkey, can travel up to three-months without a visa in the EU (Photo: sleepymyf)

Nearly 30,000 irregular border crossings were detected on Europe’s external borders in the last three months of 2011, the European Commission said on Wednesday (16 May).

In its first annual report on the Schengen agreement, also released Wednesday, the Commission says around 75 percent of the crossings occurred at the Greek-Turkish border. Most were Afghan and Pakistani nationals.

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Many then transit through the Western Balkans or travel directly through Greece and onto Italy, says the EU's Warsaw-based border control agency Frontex.

Previously, most entered from Albania but detections dropped when the EU granted Tirana a visa-free regime in December 2010.

Greece, struggling under an economic crisis and widening anti-immigrant sentiment, has since attempted to stem the flow by erecting a razor-wire fence along the 12.5 km strip of land shared with Turkey in the Evros region.

Austerity measures, says Frontex, is increasing disparities between member states in their capacity to perform border controls. Frontex also claims budget cuts exacerbate corruption and increase the vulnerability to illegal activities across the external borders.

Member states are entitled, under the EU rules, to send asylum seekers to the country where they first entered the Union. But serious human rights violations committed against asylum seekers in Greece prompted widespread outcry among human rights organisations and NGOs.

In January 2011, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that sending asylum seekers to Greece infringe fundamental rights.

The 12.5 km border has seen a number of tragedies. In January, an unidentified Asian man, a young Palestinian, and an African woman were found dead along the land strip. All had died of hypothermia.

The Commission sent Greece a letter of formal notice in October 2009 concerning the dire state of asylum system. In response, Greece proposed a plan to step-up its border controls and improve its infrastructure.

Athens set up its first detention centre for undocumented migrants in late April. Composed of box homes and surrounded by high wire, the centre is meant to house some 1,200 people.

For its part, the Commission will send a team to evaluate the Greek asylum system on 28 May. Visits are planned at Athens International Airport ‘Eleftherios Venizelos’, the Port of Piraeus and the Evros region.

Turkey readmission agreement

Greece maintains managing the asylum seekers would be facilitated if its larger Turkish neighbour signed the EU readmission agreement.

The agreement eases the expulsion process of non-EU citizens and was adopted by the Council in February 2011. Over 100 nationalities require a visa to enter the EU, covering more than 80 percent of the world’s non-EU population.

Turkey has yet to sign the agreement, pending conditions linked to its desire to obtain a visa-free regime with the EU.

“We are still at the same point. When it is initialled, we will initial it. When it is signed we will sign it, when it is implemented, we will implement it,” Turkey's spokesperson for foreign affairs Selcuk Unal said in a statement to EUobserver

Citizens from all other EU candidate countries, except Turkey, can travel up to three-months without a visa in the EU.

The European Parliament had in March motioned for a resolution for the Commission to initiate Turkish visa liberalisation once the readmission agreement had been signed.

Negotiations are on-going with resistance being met by several member states, including Germany, France, the Netherlands and Austria.

On Thursday, EU enlargement commissioner Stefan Fule is in Ankara to discuss Turkey’s accession process. The readmission agreement will be high on the agenda, his spokesperson told this website.

Separately, the Commission Schengen report notes that “the situation in Syria may prompt a future migration flow into the neighbouring countries, and also into the European Union”.

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