Greece may face expulsion from Schengen over refugee crisis

EU urges Greece to do more to control refugee influx, or it may face risk in expulsion from Schengen Agreement

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

Refugees and migrants arrive aboard the passenger ferry Eleftherios Venizelos from the island of Lesbos at the port of Piraeus, near Athens, Greece on January 23, 2016

Greece was urged to do more to control the influx of migrants by European Union interior ministers, with some ministers threatening to exclude Greece from the Schengen Agreement.

More than a million refugees who reached the EU last year have used Greece as the main gateway into Europe, causing officials to criticise Greece for failure to control the flow of arrivals.

Athens has received financial assistance from the EU to deal with the crisis but many member states believe Athens is not using it enough. Greece was due to set up five ‘Hotspot’ centres that were due to be set up for refugees arriving in Greece but only one is operating so far.

The ‘Hotspot’ approach involves the establishment of EU run centres in frontline member states like Italy and Greece to identify and fingerprint refugees.

Greek law enforcement officials, concerned by the large influx, have let migrants through deeper into Europe rather than keep them on Greek soil for registration.

Greece blames the other 27 EU states for not offering real help, saying the numbers are impossible to manage, putting the passport free Schengen zone is in crisis and on the verge of collapse.

Austria’s Interior Minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner said if we cannot protect the external EU border then the Schengen external border will move towards central Europe.

The Schengen Area is the area comprising of 26 European states that have lifted passport border control at any of their common borders. Countries like Germany, France, Austria and Sweden have recently introduced temporary border checks as they struggle to control the flow of people.

Sweden’s Interior Minister Anders Ygeman told Reuters that migrant registration centres need to start functioning in Greece and Italy as planned.

"In the end, if a country doesn't live up to its obligations, we will have to restrict its connections to the Schengen area. If you don't have control of your borders, it will have consequences for the free movement,” he said.

German politician Thomas de Maiziere said he wanted to preserve Schengen but time was running out.

A deal agreed with Turkey last November means fewer migrants arrive in Greece, but the deal so far has had limited impact.

Warnings were echoed recently by top EU officials stating that Schengen will not survive without a dramatic change in the coming weeks and EU countries are  worried about growing anti-migrant sentiment at home.

As the ministers arrived by canal for talks at Amsterdam's maritime museum, they passed a protest by Amnesty International, a boat packed with mannequins in bright life vests designed to resemble migrants arriving in Europe.

"Leaders of Europe, it's not the polls you should worry about," a sign said. "It's the history books."

TRTWorld, Reuters