Wednesday

19th Jan 2022

Greece accepts EU border help under Schengen threat

  • Over 700,000 people arrived in Greece this year (Photo: iom.int)

Greece succumbed to EU pressure on Thursday (3 December) to accept help on defending its borders, after veiled threats it will be locked out of the bloc’s passport-free Schengen zone.

Greece, which has seen over 700,000 people arrive on its shores since the beginning of the year, agreed to let EU staff help with migrant registration on its northern border, where thousands are stranded since Macedonia began to let through only people from Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria.

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Thursday saw riots. A Moroccan man died when he touched a high-voltage train cable while trying to enter Macedonia from Greece.

Greece also accepted help from other EU members to reinforce Greek guards patrolling the Aegean islands.

It will receive tents, generators, ambulances, water pumps, and other supplies to help house migrants and refugees.

As EU home affairs ministers gathered in Brussels on Friday, Greece was put under mounting pressure to cooperate with EU demans or face being barred from Schengen for up to two years.

Greek migration minister Yiannis Mouzalas said Thursday that Athens had not made the request for assistance earlier because it needed to assess its needs first.

“We did not know exactly what we needed and, more importantly, how we would use what we asked for,” he said, according to Greek daily Kathimerini.

The EU Commission welcomed the move, noting that over 50,000 people have arrived in Greece since 1 November alone.

“It is the moment of delivery,” EU migration commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos said in Brussels.

In the meantime, Sweden’ government is drawing up plans that could close the Oresund bridge over the Baltic sea, linking it to neighboring Denmark, in an effort to stop the flow of asylum seekers.

The bill would allow the government to halt traffic on the bridge in case of emergencies without having to go through parliament.

The bridge, used by 20,000 commuters daily, has been the main entry route for those seeking asylum in Sweden, which expects 190,000 migrants this year.

Friends of Schengen

Highlighting a growing rift within the EU over migration, eastern European leaders gathering in Prague on Thursday (3 December) rejected the idea of downsizing the EU’s 26-member Schengen zone to include fewer countries in order to better cope with the refugee crisis.

The prime ministers of the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia called “any open or hidden attempts to limit free movement” inside the EU “unacceptable,” Reuters reports.

They launched a “Friends of Schengen” initiative aimed at keeping the zone intact and welcomed others to join.

The group "will talk to the other EU members and try to win them over to the idea of maintaining Schengen without letting it crumble into mini-Schengens, while ensuring the functioning of the outer border," Czech prime minister Bohuslav Sobotka said.

Eurogroup chief Jeroen Dijsselbloem warned last week that Austria, Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands, and Sweden might be forced to form a “mini-Schengen” if the bloc fails to solve the migrant crisis.

“Some countries want to defend themselves against their bad migration policy by reinstating border controls,” Hungary’s prime minster Viktor Orban commented on Friday morning on state radio.

The four EU members offered help in strengthening the bloc’s external borders, namely in Greece.

The four easterners have fewer asylum seekers on their territory. Hungary was a key transit country for migrants heading to the richer northern Europe, until it fenced off its southern borders in October.

Greece relocates first asylum seekers

30 Syrians and Iraqis flew from Greece to Luxembourg on Wednesday morning. The total number of relocated asylum seekers in the EU is now 116.

EU plans fully-fledged external border force

The EU Commission will propose a reinforced border and coast guard next week to strengthen the bloc's external border controls. It could be deployed to a member state without invitation.

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