Wednesday 28 September 2016

Greece faces being sealed off from rest of EU over border crisis

Erika Olsen

Published 28/01/2016 | 02:30

Refugees disembark from a train as they arrive to the transit centre for refugees near northern Macedonian village of Tabanovce (AP Photo/Boris Grdanoski)
Refugees disembark from a train as they arrive to the transit centre for refugees near northern Macedonian village of Tabanovce (AP Photo/Boris Grdanoski)

Greece faces the prospect of being sealed off from the rest of Europe within three months over its "serious" failure to control its external border, the European Commission has said in a report.

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The report comes amid growing pressure on Athens to deal with the flow of migrants, with some fellow European Union states suggesting that Greece could be suspended from the Schengen passport-free area.

"The draft report concludes that Greece seriously neglected its obligations and that there are serious deficiencies occurring out of border controls that must be overcome," commission vice president Valdis Dombrovskis told reporters.

The report is based on an evaluation mission which went in November to the Greek-Turkish land border and several islands in the Aegean Sea - the main landing points for the one million migrants who arrived in Europe in 2015.

If the report is adopted by a majority of the 28 EU member states, the Brussels-based Commission will then draw up an "action plan" to shore up Greece's borders, especially its sea frontier with Turkey.

"Greece will then have three months to implement actions," Mr Dombrovskis said.

A failure by Greece to act would open the door for Brussels to authorise member states to exceptionally extend border controls within the Schengen area for up to two years, instead of the normal six months.

Mr Dombrovskis said the report found that there was a failure to do sufficient registering and fingerprints of migrants who have entered Greece from Turkey, the main gateway for refugees fleeing war in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.

He insisted that the EU would not link Athens's failings on the migration crisis to how it deals with Greece's huge €86bn bailout, sealed last year after the country looked to be on the brink of crashing out of the eurozone.

"We are not linking the Greek (bailout) programme with Schengen related issues," said Mr Dombrovskis, who took a leading role in the drawn-out bailout negotiations last year.

EU interior ministers had asked the commission on Monday to draw up a plan for a possible two-year extension to the controls - which threatens the idea of free movement embodied in the 26-country Schengen area.

In the last few months, Austria, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, France and non-EU member Norway have all introduced temporary controls over the migrant crisis, but with a limit of six months. They took the step to deal with a huge wave of migrants moving mostly from Greece towards Germany and Sweden, the main destination for refugees and migrants in Europe.

Irish Independent

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