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10th Dec 2019

Greece says it 'surpasses itself' in migrant crisis

  • Migrants arriving on Lesbos island. "The solution requires EU countries’ joint action," says Greece. (Photo: Fotomovimiento)

Greece has rejected criticism about the management of its borders, after the EU Commission said it had "seriously neglected its obligations", activating a process that could lead to longer-term border checks in the Schengen area.

"Greece surpasses itself in order to fulfil its obligations," Greek government spokeswoman Olga Gerovasili said in a statement on Wednesday evening (27 January).

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"This is a very severe situation and blame game is no effective management for this problem of historical proportions. The solution requires EU countries’ joint action."

Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras insisted that hotspots in Samos, Leros and Chios would soon be operational.

"We will be absolutely ready next month," he said, according to Kathimerini newspaper.

Earlier on Wednesday, EU Commission vice-president Valdis Dombrovskis said Greece had to deal with "serious deficiencies in the carrying out of external border controls".

The assessment came from a still secret Schengen evaluation report on Greece that the commission is due to forward to member states.

'Certain bureaucrats'

If the report is adopted by member states, the commission will issue recommendations and Greece would have three months to comply.

"More needs to be done to ensure the proper management of our external borders," Dombrovskis said. "This includes proper reception, registration, relocation or return of migrants in order to bring Schengen's functioning back to normal."

In Athens, Tsipras blamed “certain bureaucrats in Brussels” for not understanding the situation in his country. But he is likely to face pressure at the next EU summit on 18-19 February if nothing has changed on Greece's borders.

On 4 February, German interior minister Thomas de Maiziere and his French counterpart Bernard Cazeneuve will visit Athens and the island of Lesbos to have a look at the situation on the ground.

Last weekend, and at an EU interior ministers' meeting in Amsterdam, some countries, led by Austria, floated the idea of excluding Greece from the free-movement Schengen area. The ministers council asked the commission to study the possibility of extending border checks in the area up to two years.

Wednesday's announcement by the commission is a first step in that direction, as Greek non-compliance with any recommendations would allow countries to extend border checks.

Turkey’s compliance

"The Greeks must suffer the consequences," said Belgian secretary of state for asylum and migration, Theo Francken. Earlier this week, he had proposed that Greece host 200,000 to 300,000 migrants in camps to prevent them from going further into the EU.

The Greek government denounced these moves and rejected responsibility for the situation.

Greek spokeswoman Gerovassili said it was "counterproductive" to use the media to isolate Greece based on a report that assessed the borders in November.

"Greece has repeatedly called for enhancing Frontex human resources and logistics, while responsiveness to these demands has only been partial," she said.

"The relocation program … has not been implemented, as from the initial target of 160,000 refugees, only 414 have been relocated. Despite international agreements, irregular migrants’ readmission by their respective countries of origin, including Turkey, has shown results close to zero.

"Managing the refugee flows depends primarily on Turkey and on Turkey’s compliance with what has been agreed. However, the EU-Turkey agreement does not advance, without anyone in Greece being responsible for that."

Greece 'seriously neglected' border controls, says EU

The European Commission has accused Greece of "seriously neglecting its obligations" to manage its frontiers amid broader threats to extend border controls in the Schengen area to two years.

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.

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.

Greece struggles to hit EU migrant hotspot deadline

Greece has until 15 February to complete five screening centres for migrants - known as hotspots - as Macedonia erects a new border fence to stem the migrant flow through the Balkans.

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