Friday

6th Dec 2019

Report: Greece threatened with Schengen suspension

  • Migrants on the Greek island of Lesbos (Photo: International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent)

If it does not improve control of its borders and reception of migrants, Greece could be faced with a suspension from the free movement Schengen area.

According to the Financial Times, the threat has been made to the Greek government by several EU officials including Luxembourg's foreign minister Jean Asselborn, whose country holds the EU rotating presidency.

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EU interior ministers meeting in Brussels Thursday (3 December) are expected to ask for more measures from Greece to control the flow of refugees to Europe, improve registration, and step up cooperation with the EU.

The European Commission is also concerned by the humanitarian situation in Greece, especially on islands where migrants arrive from Turkey.

Dying children

According to Belgium's Le Soir, health commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis wrote a letter to commission president Jean-Claude Juncker in which he describes appalling conditions on Lesbos island, with no emergency care and with babies dying of hypothermia.

The commission and some member states reproach Greece for not implementing EU decisions or using all the EU tools it could to manage the situation.

Greek authorities are lagging in setting up hotspots to receive, control, and register migrants.

They have not delivered on promises to organise relocation of refugees to other countries and they are resisting help from Frontex, the EU border agency.

"The Germans are furious and that’s why people are talking about pushing Greece out," a EU diplomat was quoted as saying by the FT. He said "the red line for the Germans was not allowing Frontex to come in and help them."

Earlier this year, Greece delayed the disbursement by the commission of a €30 million aid package to face the refugee crisis when it did not provide the necessary documents.

The commission has also been waiting, since August, for Greece to request the activation of the EU civil protection mechanism that would trigger support from other member states.

The idea of suspending Greece from the Schengen area has been floated in the EPP, German chancellor Angela Merkel's centre-right political family, since the height of the migration crisis late summer.

EPP Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban also said in September that EU countries should be able to manage Greek borders if necessary.

“If the Greeks are not able to defend their own borders, we should let the other countries of the EU defend the Greek border,” he said at an EU summit.

Pressure

Socialist Slovak PM Robert Fico also called last week to expel Greece from the Schengen area.

“We just cannot put up with a member country that has openly given up on safeguarding the Schengen area borders," he said at a parliamentary hearing.

Meanwhile, 4,710 migrants arrived in Greece on Monday (30 November), according to the latest daily figures by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).


According to a separate UNHCR report, a quarter of the 730,000 migrants who arrived in Greece by sea this year were children.

"About a third of the refugees and migrants who have drowned in the Aegean Sea this year were children, while the number of children applying for asylum in the European Union has doubled compared to 2014," the UN agency said.

According to Greece's Kathimerini, the UN agency is trying to accommodate 20,000 asylum seekers eligible for the EU’s relocation program by the end of the year. The plan was agreed at a Balkan route summit organised by the commission in October.

Pressure is also increasing on the Greek border with Macedonia, where migrants other than Syrian, Iraqis, and Afghans are not allowed to cross.

On Tuesday, 1,000 migrants were sent back to Athens by the UNHCR. But at least 1,500 migrants remain near the border, blocking freight railway transit to central Europe.

EU agrees on Schengen checks for all

EU "collective reaction must be ruthless," said French minister, as controls are to be stepped up for migrants and EU nationals.

Greece risks Schengen expulsion

Austria's interior minister, Johanna Mikl-Leitner, wants Greece booted out of the passport-free Schengen zone unless it secures its, and the EU's, external borders.

Opinion

Europe's refugee policy is test of its true 'way of life'

As ex-national leaders, we know it's not easy to withstand public pressures and put collective interests ahead of domestic concerns. But without strong institutional leadership, EU values themselves risk ringing hollow, not least to those seeking protection on Europe's shores.

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