Thursday 22 March 2018

Pressure on Greece to stop flow of migrants into Europe

Amnesty activists protest in Amsterdam against the migrant crisis using a boat filled with mannequins wearing life jackets. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
Amnesty activists protest in Amsterdam against the migrant crisis using a boat filled with mannequins wearing life jackets. Photo: AFP/Getty Images

Peter Foster in Brussels

Greece faces being expelled or suspended from the Schengen free-movement zone as European leaders seek to pressurise Athens into doing more to stem the flow of migrants coming from Turkey.

Belgium, Austria and Sweden have all publicly demanded that Greece do more to stop the migrants spilling out of the Middle East. Their demands came hours before interior ministers gathered in Amsterdam yesterday for a meeting to discuss emergency measures to prop up the Schengen system.

These reportedly include plans to significantly bolster security forces on Greece's border with Macedonia - a move that has been vociferously rejected by ministers in Athens. They warned that this would create a "cemetery of souls" on the Greek side of the border.

French sources said the ministers may also discuss the possibility of allowing countries greater freedom to re-impose border controls within the Schengen area by extending emergency border controls, which are allowed by Schengen, from six months to two years.

Germany, Austria, Belgium, Sweden and Denmark are understood to back the proposal.

"If we cannot protect the external EU border, the Greek-Turkish border, then the Schengen external border will move towards central Europe," said Johanna Mikl-Leitner, Austria's interior minister.

"It is a myth that the Greek-Turkish border cannot be protected. The Greek navy has enough capacities to secure this border. It is one of the biggest navies in Europe."

Since last summer's migrant crisis began, more than one million migrants have poured into Europe, forcing seven Schengen states, including Germany, to institute emergency border checks that are officially temporary, but which show no sign of being lifted.

The threats to Greece's membership of Schengen came days after Donald Tusk warned that Europe's passport-free travel area, known as Schengen, could break apart if the migrant strategy was not sorted out within two months.

Both Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, and Jean-Claude Juncker, the European Commission president, have warned that the effective collapse of Schengen and the reinstatement of national borders threatened to cost EU economies billions of euro in lost time and inefficiencies.

France is also calling for tougher border security following the Paris attacks, which exposed the security flaws caused by the unimpeded movement in the Schengen area.

The French government is not seeking to abolish the Schengen agreement, still seen as a pillar of the EU, but it does want to see fundamental changes in the way it operates.

Irish Independent

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