Wednesday

21st Feb 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.

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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".

Frontex naval operation to look for 'foreign fighters'

The EU border and coast guard agency, or Frontex, has launched a new naval operation called Themis. The operation replaces its surveillance Triton mission but with a bigger emphasis on security and intelligence gathering.

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