EU ministers mount pressure on Greece over migration crisis
European Union interior ministers urged Greece to act on migration on Monday (January 25), some threatening to exclude it from the continent’s prized passport-free travel zone as the bloc’s gravest crisis in decades increasingly divides its members.
Greece has been the main gateway to Europe for more than a million refugees and migrants who reached the EU last year and has been criticized for a failure to control arrivals, which have shown little sign of falling over winter months.
Athens says the numbers are impossible to manage and blames the other 27 EU states for not offering help. The crisis has put the passport-free Schengen zone – hailed by top EU officials as the greatest achievement of European integration – on the verge of collapse.
As the ministers arrived for an EU interior ministers’ informal meeting 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.’
Austria’s Interior Minister Interior Minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner said Greece could be excluded from the Schengen area if it does not block the flow of migrants from passing through its maritime border.
“I believe it is clear that if it is not manageable to protect the external EU border, meaning the Greek-Turkish border, then the Schengen external border will move towards central Europe. It is demanded that Greece has to strengthen its resources as soon as possible and accept help,” Mikl-Leitner said.
The Schengen zone comprises 26 states, most of which are also EU members. Germany, France, Austria and Sweden are among several that introduced temporary border checks as they struggle to control the flow of people.
Excluding Greece would require applying Article 26 of the Schengen code. Germany, the main destination for refugees and migrants fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East and Africa, first floated the idea last year.
The Greek minister did not speak on arrival but the EU Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos, himself Greek, called on all EU members to better manage the Schengen zone’s external border.
“Now it is up to member states to deliver. On the other hand, in order to maintain and ensure the free movement within the Schengen zone, it is obvious that we have to better manage our external borders,” Avramopoulos said.
Berlin hopes a deal agreed with Turkey last November would mean fewer migrants heading to Greece, but the deal has so far had limited impact.
Top EU officials have echoed Berlin’s warnings recently that Schengen will not survive without a dramatic change in the coming weeks in the way the bloc handles the crisis.
However, EU countries, worried about growing anti-migrant sentiment at home, have failed to agree.
More than one million refugees and migrants braved the seas, and at least 3,770 died, in 2015 as they tried to reach Europe’s sanctuary by crossing the Mediterranean Sea, according to the United Nations’ refugee agency and IOM.
The total number of arrivals in Europe by sea rose to about 37,000 in January, more than six times the combined figures for the same month in 2014 and 2015, usually a slow month due to the bad weather.
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