Thursday

13th Dec 2018

Macedonia border move strands migrants in Greece

Thousands of refugees and migrants have been stranded in Greece after Macedonia restricted border crossings on Monday (22 February).

Macedonia decided over the weekend not to let through Afghan nationals and tightened entry for Syrians and Iraqis travelling from Greece, creating a bottleneck.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

On Tuesday, Greece police started to remove migrants from its border with Macedonia, according to Reuters, as officials in Athens called on Macedonia to ease the restrictions.

Slovenia in the meantime authorised the army to help manage the flow of migrants crossing the Croatian border into Europe's Schengen passport-free zone.

The bottleneck scenario was feared for some time, as countries on the so-called Western Balkan route introduce border restrictions, stranding migrants in Greece.

The European Commission on Monday promised more assistance to Greece to avoid a humanitarian crisis.

But planned camps all along the route – including one in Greece capable of holding 50,000 people – have not yet been set up.

Greek migration minister Yannis Mouzalas criticised on state-run ERT television Austria’s decision to cap the number of migrants it allows in, saying the limit ran against commonly agreed EU decisions.  

The minister said Athens was racing to negotiate an end the deadlock, saying Greece was trying to exert pressure at the “European and bilateral level”, AFP reported.

Mouzalas also criticised the Visegrad countries - Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary and Slovakia - for not accepting migrants under the EU’s relocation plan.

Time running out

EU officials under the Dutch presidency are meeting on Tuesday to assess the situation on the Western Balkan route, the main gateway for migrants arriving from main the Middle East to Germany.

Western Balkan leaders are expected to meet in Vienna for a mini-summit on Wednesday.

European justice and home affairs ministers will gather on Thursday in Brussels, with a discussion over breakfast focusing on the Western Balkans with the Serbian and Macedonian ministers.

The EU is still betting on a mix of policies to stop the historical influx of migrants, counting on Turkey to help stem the flow, setting up registration points in Greece and distributing migrants among member states, policies which so far failed to bring a breakthrough.

Ministers will once again focus on better implementation on already agreed measures. A voluntary resettlement scheme will be discussed, but no pledges or binding commitments are expected.

An EU official said ministers were due to ask the Turkish interior minister: “What can you do, and how can we assist.”

EU officials have said the number of migrants arriving from Turkey to Greece is still too high, with 90,000 arriving this year already.

In an effort to better manage the bloc’s external borders, the Dutch presidency of the EU will push the proposal for a European Border and Coast Guard, to be discussed on Thursday, so it can be operational during the summer, officials said.

However, time is running out, warned German interior minister Thomas de Maiziere, telling public broadcaster ARD that “the next two week are decisive”.

He said if already agreed measures did not work, other plans might have to kick in.

One possibility was “that protecting the Schengen area would have to take place at different borders”, he said.

Visegrad countries have been pushing for a “plan B” last week, warning that if nothing else works by March, Greece should be sealed off from its northern neighbours Macedonia and Bulgaria, and a “second filter” of migrants should be created there.

Analysis

Greek migration crisis enters worst-case scenario

The EU warned Tuesday of a possible humanitarian crisis unfolding in the Balkans, with Greece a special concern, as a de facto exclusion from the Schengen area looms.

EU at breaking point over migration crisis

EU divisions over the migrant crisis reached a new low on Thursday, with Greece saying that it won’t become “Europe’s Lebanon” and accusing Austria of “19th century attitudes.”

EU unveils €700m refugee fund with Greece in mind

The EU commission plans to spend up €700 million on refugee aid in member states over the next three years. "This assistance, to a great extent, will go to Greece," a senior official said.

Greek PM threatens to block EU decisions

Alexis Tsipras threatens to block EU decisions if Greece is left to deal with the migration crisis alone, warning that he will not let Greece be turned into a "warehouse of souls".

News in Brief

  1. Hungary votes to create new court overseen by government
  2. Polish PM calls confidence vote in EU judicial clash
  3. MEPs urge Russia to free Ukrainian prisoners
  4. No renegotiation of Brexit deal, MEPs say
  5. Italy to spend less than EU feared: report
  6. May: new leader would have to delay or rescind Brexit
  7. Brexit chaos as Tory MPs to vote on May's leadership
  8. EU set to spend 3.2 percent more in 2019

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. International Partnership For Human RightsKyrgyz authorities have to immediately release human rights defender Azimjon Askarov
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersSeminar on disability and user involvement
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersInternational appetite for Nordic food policies
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Nordic Innovation House in Hong Kong
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region has chance to become world leader when it comes to start-ups
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersTheresa May: “We will not be turning our backs on the Nordic region”
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsOpen letter to Emmanuel Macron ahead of Uzbek president's visit
  8. International Partnership for Human RightsRaising key human rights concerns during visit of Turkmenistan's foreign minister
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersState of the Nordic Region presented in Brussels
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersThe vital bioeconomy. New issue of “Sustainable Growth the Nordic Way” out now
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic gender effect goes international
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersPaula Lehtomaki from Finland elected as the Council's first female Secretary General

Latest News

  1. EU awaits May's future, insists on no renegotiation
  2. Deja vu: Bulgaria pipeline to face EU scrutiny
  3. MEPs and EU staff hid from Strasbourg gunman
  4. 'Trumped Up': The curious case of Babis' conflicts of interest
  5. EU rules out Brexit changes, but could help May
  6. Lead MEP on Morocco resigns as her report passes
  7. UN text not yet ready for ministers, says EU climate czar
  8. Russian propaganda prompts alarm in Ukraine and France

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic design sets the stage at COP24, running a competition for sustainable chairs
  2. Counter BalanceIn Kenya, a motorway funded by the European Investment Bank runs over roadside dwellers
  3. ACCACompany Law Package: Making the Best of Digital and Cross Border Mobility,
  4. International Partnership for Human RightsCivil Society Worried About Shortcomings in EU-Kyrgyzstan Human Rights Dialogue
  5. UNESDAThe European Soft Drinks Industry Supports over 1.7 Million Jobs
  6. Mission of China to the EUJointly Building Belt and Road Initiative Leads to a Better Future for All
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsCivil society asks PACE to appoint Rapporteur to probe issue of political prisoners in Azerbaijan
  8. ACCASocial Mobility – How Can We Increase Opportunities Through Training and Education?
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersEnergy Solutions for a Greener Tomorrow
  10. UNICEFWhat Kind of Europe Do Children Want? Unicef & Eurochild Launch Survey on the Europe Kids Want
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Countries Take a Stand for Climate-Smart Energy Solutions
  12. Mission of China to the EUChina: Work Together for a Better Globalisation

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us