Greece has been warned that it could be expelled from Europe’s passport-free Schengen zone if it does not manage its borders better and slow the current wave of refugees.
A report from the European Commission said there were “serious deficiencies” in the way Greece has guarded the European Union’s external frontiers from migrants. It said Greek authorities did not properly register and fingerprint new arrivals, in order to see whether identity documents were genuine and to check people against Interpol and other databases. Officials warned that Athens faced unprecedented border controls that would isolate it from the rest of the 26-member Schengen zone if it does not act by April.
“Greece seriously neglected its obligations and there are serious deficiencies in the carrying out of external border controls that must be overcome and dealt with by Greek authorities,” the Commission’s Vice President Valdis Dombrovskis said.
The report gives Athens three months to redress the situation, or the Commission could recommend other countries reintroduce border checks “to protect the common interest of the Schengen area”, a statement said.
The Greek government protested that the situation had changed since the Commission’s inspection took place last November. “Important work has been carried out since then,” the Greek Migration Minister Yiannis Mouzalas said. “The next reports will be very different.” He has warned that sealing Greece off from Schengen would create a humanitarian crisis with thousands of people trapped in the country.
Greece has been the main gateway for the one million refugees and migrants who arrived in Europe last year, many of them fleeing war in trouble spots like Syria. The country has around 4,000 islands, about 200 of which are inhabited. Its complicated coastline stretches 8,500 miles in total, the 11th longest in the world. But it is Greece’s position in the eastern Mediterranean – next to Turkey, where around two million Syrians are living in camps – which makes it an obvious landing point.
The warning came as the UN said that one million people would seek refuge in Europe this year. A report from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the International Organisation for Migration said events in Syria and Afghanistan meant refugees would continue heading to Europe in similar numbers to last year.