Greece says ‘joint action’ required to tackle refugee issue

Greece says ‘joint action’ required, not ‘diverting responsibility’ following EU warning over border controls

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

Refugees cross railway tracks as they wait to cross the Greek-Macedonian border near the village of Idomeni, Greece, January 28, 2016.

Updated Jan 29, 2016

Greece has dismissed the European Union’s criticisms over border controls, accusing EU partners of shifting blame instead of working together to end the continent's worst refugee crisis since World War II.

"This tactic of diverting responsibility is not an effective response to a problem of historic dimensions, which requires joint action," government spokeswoman Olga Gerovassili said on Wednesday.

An EU report criticsed Athens on Wednesday for "seriously neglecting" the borders of the union.

The draft report said Greece had failed to register and take fingerprints of refugees who had arrived in November, 2015.

The European Commission, EU's executive body, warned that Greece could face border controls with the rest of the union, if it does not fix "deficiencies" in its management of the external borders of the Schengen zone until May.

"The draft report concludes... that there are serious deficiencies in the carrying out of external border controls that must be overcome and dealt with by Greek authorities," European Commission Vice President Valdis Dombrovskis said.

Possible border controls between Greece and the rest of EU may have a negative effect on the issue, as Greece’s suffering economy depends on tourism.

Greece responded by saying EU interior ministers had concluded at a meeting on Monday that Turkey held the key for tackling the crisis and that it must deliver on agreed measures.

Gerovassili said isolating Greece would not be "constructive."

An elderly refugee woman wears a cap decorated with the Greek national flag as she waits inside a tent to cross the Greek-Macedonian border, near the village of Idomeni, Greece, January 21, 2016

At least 850,000 refugees who reached the EU last year have used Greece as the main gateway, the UN refugee Agency said, which caused officials to criticise Greece for a 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 doing enough.

Greece was due to set up five "Hotspot" centers that were due to be set up for refugees arriving in Greece but only one is operating so far.

The Union also agreed a deal with Turkey last November to solve the crisis, but the deal so far has had a limited impact.

EU leaders had agreed to give aid to Turkey as part of a package of measures aimed at reducing the number of refugees heading for Europe.

But Italy has objected to the grant, saying there needs to be more certainty over how it is spent.

Syrian and Afghan refugees wait after being caught by Turkish gendarme on January 27, 2016 in Canakkale's Kucukkuyu district.

Extending border controls

The report could pave the way for Brussels to approve extending border controls within the Schengen area - including with Greece - for up to two years, instead of the current short term measures which will end in May.

"If the necessary action is not being taken and deficiencies persist, there is a possibility to ... allow member states to temporarily close their borders," Dombrovskis said.

Yet he said the Commission intended on preserving Schengen, one of the EU's key achievements, and that Greece had improved its border controls since November - but not enough.

EU border agency Frontex this week said that the Aegean Sea, which claims the lives of refugees almost on a daily basis, "is not a field that can be fenced."

Henri Labayle, a law professor at the University of Pau, France, said that "A game of bluff among EU states is now in the process of blowing up."

Although Greece has failed to meet its obligations, it is a "complete contradiction" to castigate Athens for not having enough border staff, after it was forced to axe state jobs under the economy bailout, Labayle said.

Yannis Mouzalas, Greece's junior migration minister, has repeatedly noted that Greece has received far less in staff and equipment than originally pledged by Europe.

TRTWorld and agencies