Thursday

17th Jan 2019

Greece 'seriously neglected' border controls, says EU

  • Frontex border guards with their Greek counterparts (Photo: europarl.europa.eu)

Greece is unable to manage its frontiers, the European Commission has said - a move that could prolong internal border controls elsewhere in the passport-free Schengen zone for up to two years.

The finding, announced on Wednesday (27 January), is part of a confidential report by the EU border agency Frontex.

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Speaking to reporters, commission vice-president Valdis Dombrovskis said it could lead to member states closing some or all of their borders for rotating six-months intervals limited to two years.

The draft will be sent next week to the Schengen evaluation committee, a group of experts in the Council of the EU, representing the member states.

The committee needs to then adopt the report in a qualified majority vote. Once adopted, the commission will send recommendations the following week on how to plug the border gaps.

Greece then has three months to implement the commission's recommendations.

A failure to do so could trigger a provision in article 26 of the Schengen border code that would allow member states, like Germany, Austria, and Slovenia, to extend current border checks to up to two years.

The report says Greece had "seriously neglected its obligations" and found "serious deficiencies" in its external border controls.

Big outstanding issues include the reception, registration, and relocation of refugees and asylum seekers.

It notes Greece has also failed to identify and register irregular migrants.

Fingerprints are not being taken, as required, and IDs are not verified for authenticity or cross-checked with databases from Interpol and the Schengen Information System (SIS).

Agents from the EU border agency Frontex were sent last November on a three-day mission to spot check for holes on the Greek-Turkish land border and on the Greek islands of Samos and Chios.

Their conclusions fed into the draft, which includes a number of other details the Brussels-executive wants to keep from public scrutiny.

A Greek government spokesperson told this website that it would first look at the report before issuing a comment.

Angelos Syrigos, an assistant professor for international law at Panteion University, says part of the problem is that Eurodac, the EU system that registers migrant fingerprints, crashed last March in Greece "due to the high numbers" and wasn't operational until August.

Nikos Toskas, Greece's "alternate minister" of public order and citizen protection, said earlier this week it was fingerprinting up to 90 percent of people, compared with 50 percent not long ago.

Greece is also lacking staff pledged by EU states to help launch its so-called hotspots, where arrivals are supposed to be identified and registered, on the islands.

The Greek coast guard last year rescued over 100,000 people crossing over the sea by boat from Turkey. More than half were Syrian refugees.

Serbia closes border with Macedonia

Dombrovskis' announcement coincided with reports that Serbia has now closed its border with Macedonia.

A contact at the Skopje-based Macedonian Young Lawyers Association, a human rights NGO, said the Serbs at noon starting turning back refugees arriving from Macedonia.

"After 12 o'clock today, the Serbian Macedonia border was closed and the refugees are not being allowed through the Serbian side", he said.

He noted people were still able to cross into Macedonia from the Greek side. Macedonia media report around 2,500 crossed on Tuesday.

Frontex, for its part, has a team on the Greek side of the Macedonian border.

Another 57 border guards, from EU member states, are on the Macedonian side but are not part of a Frontex operation.

Slovenia's PM, Miro Cerar, said in a letter sent to the EU Commission that member states should shore up the borders between the two countries.

The plan was reportedly endorsed by commission president Jean-Claude Juncker.

The new bottleneck between Serbia and Macedonia could spell further trouble as people are likely to attempt to reach the EU via other routes if no other solution is available.

EU states push for two-year border controls

EU member states are looking at legal ways to keep border controls in place for up to two years, as the migration influx puts unprecedented pressure on the passport-free travel zone.

Greece rejects Schengen threats as 'blame game'

Greek officials reject mounting EU criticism of their leaky borders as a "blame game ... punishment," amid calls to expel Greece from the passport-free Schengen area.

Analysis

EU mantra of 'solidarity' lost on asylum

Two years after EU leaders made big promises on migration, following the Lampedusa tragedy, and their words still mean almost nothing in practice.

Athens ponders defence options on migrant crisis

Greek authorities are looking at getting the ministry of defence involved to help set up migrant screening centres, as the European Commission piles on the pressure for more results.

EU imposes border demands on Greece

Ministers have ordered Greece to beef up its external borders with Turkey and better manage migration flows. Failure could lead to further restrictions on passport-free travel in the Schengen states.

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