Greece ‘seriously neglected’ its borders: EU

Greece has “seriously neglected” its obligations to the EU’s external borders during the migrant crisis, the European Commission said in a report Wednesday, with Athens facing a possible three-month deadline to take action.

The report comes with growing pressure on Athens to deal with the flow of migrants, with some fellow European Union states suggesting that Greece could be suspended from the Schengen passport-free area.

“The draft report concludes that Greece seriously neglected its obligations and that there are serious deficiencies occurring out of border controls that must be overcome,” commission vice president Valdis Dombrovskis told a press conference.

The report is based on an evaluation mission that went in November to the Greek-Turkish land border and several islands in the Aegean Sea — the main landing points for the one million migrants who arrived in Europe in 2015.

If the report is adopted by a majority of the 28 EU member states, the Brussels-based Commission will then draw up an “action plan” to shore up Greece’s borders, especially its sea frontier with Turkey.

“Greece will then have three months to implement actions,” Dombrovskis said.

A failure by Greece to act would open the door for Brussels to authorise member states to exceptionally extend border controls within the Schengen area for up to two years, instead of the normal six months.

Dombrovskis said the report found that there was a failure to do sufficient registering and fingerprints of migrants who have entered Greece from Turkey, the main gateway for refugees fleeing war in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.

– ‘No bailout link’ –

He insisted that the EU would not link Athens’s failings on the migration crisis to how it deals with Greece’s huge 86 billion euros ($94 billion) bailout, sealed last year after the country looked to be on the brink of crashing out of the eurozone.

“We are not linking the Greek (bailout) programme with Schengen related issues,” said Dombrovskis, who took a leading role in the drawn-out bailout negotiations last year.

EU interior ministers had asked the commission on Monday to draw up a plan for a possible two-year extension to the controls — which threatens the idea of free movement embodied in the 26-country Schengen area.

In the last few months, Austria, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, France and non-EU member Norway have all introduced temporary controls over the migrant crisis, but with a limit of six months.

They took the step to deal with a huge wave of migrants moving mostly from Greece towards Germany and Sweden, the main destination for refugees and migrants in Europe.

Austrian Interior Minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner warned last week that Athens could face “temporary exclusion” from Schengen.

Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico on Wednesday said the EU was committing “ritual suicide” with its migration policy.

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