Greece dismisses Schengen threat as migrant crisis continues

The Boat Refugee Foundation at work in Kos, Greece Photo: Ann Wuyts

Greece has dismissed threats from the European Commission that it could be removed from the Schengen Area as a result of “serious deficiencies” in its migrant process.

A draft report, which has not been made public, has prompted the European Commission to warn Greece that it must comply with Schengen Area rules if it wants to remain a member.

“The Commission continuously monitors the implementation of the Schengen rules in all Schengen Member States,” said Migration and Home Affairs Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos, explaining that authorities had made several unannounced visits to the Greek-Turkish land border in November 2015 to examine police and coast guard presence, as well as the ID and registration process.

“The report shows that there are serious deficiencies in the management of the external border in Greece,” warned Avramopoulos, adding that “substantial improvements are needed to ensure the proper reception, registration, relocation or return of migrants in order to bring Schengen functioning back to normal”.

The report has given Greece three months to make these improvements.

Greece has hit back, though, insisting that the country has “surpassed itself in order to keep its obligations”.

Government spokeswoman Olga Gerovasili said Turkey was culpable for not clamping down on the flow of refugees, as well as failing to tackle smuggling rings.

The dispute arrives as the Schengen Area appears increasingly under threat. A growing number of EU nations are responding to terrorist attacks by tightening their border controls on a short-term basis to prevent potential threats getting into their country. 

“We know that in the meantime Greece has started undertaking efforts towards rectifying and complying with the Schengen rules,” conceded the report, acknowledging that Greek authorities are “under pressure”.

However, it claimed that there is “no effective identification and registration of irregular migrants and that fingerprints are not being systematically entered into the system and travel documents are not being systematically checked for the authenticity or against crucial security databases, such as SIS, Interpol and national databases”.

A spokesperson for the Greek migration minister told the Guardian that the construction of new hotspots would be finished on several of the country’s islands by the end of February: “There have been a lot of technical and political problems to get around but by the last 10 days of February five will open on Lesbos, Leros, Chios, Samos and Kos.”