Excluding Greece from Schengen won't solve migrant crisis, says Tusk

World Tuesday 16/February/2016 17:18 PM
By: Times News Service
Excluding Greece from Schengen won't solve migrant crisis, says Tusk

Athens: Excluding Greece from the open-border Schengen area will not solve the migrant crisis that is testing Europe's cohesion to its limits, EU Council President Donald Tusk said on Tuesday.
Europe needed to improve the protection of its external borders, he told reporters after talks with Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras in Athens. That required more effort by Greece, but also more support from its European Union partners.
Central European nations on Monday proposed drafting emergency back-up plans to halt the flow of migrants to Western Europe through the Balkans, effectively ring-fencing Greece.
"The migration crisis is testing our union to its limits," Tusk said. "For all those talking of excluding Greece from Schengen, thinking this is a solution to the migration crisis, I say no, it is not."
Greece -- the main entry point into Europe for more than a million refugees and migrants since last year, many crossing the sea from Turkey -- is under intense pressure from its EU partners to tighten border checks.
EU ministers last week gave Greece three months to fulfill 50 recommendations to fix its borders. If it does not, the EU members of the free-travel Schengen zone can impose checks on internal frontiers for up to two years.
Tusk, who was in Greece to rustle up support for an ambitious EU reform programme designed to keep Britain in the EU, was echoing sentiments expressed by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who said Greece needed help in meeting its border protection duties, and not shunned.
"Let me be clear," Tusk said. "Excluding Greece from Schengen solves none of our problems."
Greece says the burden it is assuming in the migrants crisis is disproportionate, adding strain on a nation reeling from six years of deep recession induced by austerity under the terms of three international financial bailouts.
Athens says numbers are too big to handle, that it cannot turn back boatloads of refugees and migrants into the sea, and that Turkey do more to stop the migrants at its shores.
Greece said on Tuesday it had set up four out of five proposed registration centres for refugees, drafting in the army to help.
The leaders of Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia said on Monday there should be tighter controls on the borders of Balkan countries neighbouring Greece if attempts to limit the numbers from Turkey to Greece failed.
Tsipras repeated his call for a common European approach.
EU leaders are due to meet this week to discuss EU reforms and the migration crisis. At the February 18-19 summit, British Prime Minister David Cameron wants to reach a deal on reforms which he will put to Britons on a referendum on EU membership expected to be held in late June.
Meanwhile, Austria's interior minister said in comments published on Tuesday that the flow of migrants through the Balkans and towards Germany will be slowed progressively as part of a coordinated "domino effect" of restrictions by countries along the route.
Austria has largely served as a corridor into neighbouring Germany for the hundreds of thousands of people, many of them Syrian refugees, who have streamed onto its territory since the two countries threw open their borders to them in September.
It has, however, taken in a similar number of asylum seekers to Germany in proportion to its far smaller population, and the coalition government has said it will not be able to cope if the influx continues unabated.
With European measures to address the continent's migration crisis facing mounting delays and public support for the far right having risen, Vienna is turning to a "Plan B" aimed at stemming the flow of people without going through Brussels.
It has already said it will limit asylum applications to less than half last year's total, and last week Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz told Macedonia to be ready to "completely stop" the flow of migrants across its southern border, adding that Austria would soon do the same.
"The domino effect along the Balkan route is developing according to plan," Interior Minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner, who is expected to announce new border measures later on Tuesday, was quoted as saying by Austrian newspaper Kurier.
"It is important that each country progressively restrict the flow on its border, and that we do that in agreement with each other," she said, adding: "The brakes are being applied step by step."
Macedonia, lying near the bottom of the Balkans next to Greece, has erected two lines of metal fencing topped with razor wire along its border at the main crossing point for migrants.
Austria has erected barriers and a roughly 4-km (2.5-mile) fence as crowd-control measures at its main crossing for migrants, at Spielfeld on its southern border with Slovenia.
Kurier said the country was preparing to introduce a similar crowd-control system further west at the Karawankentunnel crossing, also on the border with Slovenia.
The introduction of such barriers was also possible at the Brenner crossing with Italy, a vital transport link, the paper said, adding that border supervision might be stepped up at nine other crossings on the Italian, Slovenian and Hungarian borders.