20th Mar 2018

Athens ponders defence options on migrant crisis

  • Athens is looking at options to get the ministry of defence involved in managing hotspots (Photo: Gerard McGovern)

The European Commission is demanding that Greece make more efforts on migration amid moves by Athens to get its ministry of defence involved in managing asylum screening zones at so-called hotspots.

On Tuesday (2 February), the Brussels-executive announced it would send a list of recommendations to the Council, which represents the member states, to help Greece plug the gaps at its borders.

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Details of the recommendations remain confidential but the commission said in a statement it spanned border surveillance, fingerprinting, identification, among other issues.

Greece will have three months to implement the proposals at the expense of possibly prolonging internal border controls elsewhere in the EU to up to two years.

EU migration commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos told euro-deputies in Strasbourg that Greece was making efforts and progress despite announcing last week Athens was "seriously neglecting" its duties to manage its frontiers.

"The commission is putting every effort to achieve normalisation of the Schengen functioning and in parallel is preparing for all options," said Avramopoulos.

He added ending Schengen or ejecting Greece from the passport-free zone was not part of those options. He noted the flow of irregular migrants to Greece and the Western Balkans "continues unabated".

Some 62,000 people arrived on the Greek Aegean islands since the start of the year, according to the International Organization for Migration. Around 360 have died attempting to make the journey.

Greek ministry of defence

Athens, for its part, is scrambling to get its hotspots up and running, with reports the military could step in to get them operational within two weeks.

Greek prime minister Tsipras on Sunday (31 January) met with the minister of defence, Panos Kammenos, to look into ways his ministry could increase its assistance.

Among the possible scenarios is for the ministry to provide staff, operate cooking facilities, and help set up two relocation centres in mainland Greece (in Attica and Thessaloniki), each able to accommodate 4,000 people.

A Greek spokesperson told this website any involvement of the military would be limited to logistics and technical services.

Overall progress in EU 'poor'

The European Commission said it would also issue next week a progress report assessing whether the overall plans on migration were being implemented in EU states.

"We will be frank and objective about the poor progress we see on the ground today and about what needs to be done in the next days or weeks," said Avramopoulos.

Plans agreed by EU states last year to manage the crisis have failed to make any discernible impact. The scheme to relocate 160,000 people from Greece and Italy to other member states has ground to a halt, with some governments flat-out refusing to participate.

Other outstanding issues include the returning of people not entitled to international protection. Some countries, despite having readmission agreements in place, such as Pakistan, have refused their own nationals re-entry.

Liberal EP leader Guy Verhofstadt, for his part, proposed using article 78 of the EU treaty to take over the Greek borders and create a rapid response force.

"[It] is a decision that can be taken by a qualified majority in the council immediately," he said in Strasbourg.

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