Greece may be kicked out of the Schengen zone which allows passport-free travel within the EU after the Commission said on Wednesday, that the country was failing to secure its borders.
According to a Brussels draft evaluation report, Greek authorities have not been able to properly register and fingerprint the thousands of incoming refugees and thus has three months to secure its frontiers or face Schengen ejection under Article 26, which will allow border controls to be imposed for a two-year period.
The report, that found “serious deficiencies” in the way Greece has handled the influx of refugees, sparked an immediate government response: “Greece has surpassed itself in order to meet its obligations,” said government spokeswoman Olga Gerovasili.
“Trying to isolate Greece is not constructive,” she added.
The Greek government continues to point the finger at Turkey for not meeting its obligations under the deal it signed last November, and for failing to uncover smugglers’ rings and restrict the flow of refugees.
At the same time, Greece’s Migration Minister Ioannis Mouzalas’ comment in an interview to the BBC that Belgium has told Greece to “push” migrants “back into the sea” as a solution to the crisis, appears to have caused a disturbance.
Last year, over 850,000 people entered Greece by sea on their way to Europe, with the North Aegean islands, mainly Lesvos, bearing the brunt of the human influx. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reveals that in 2016, some 35,455 people have thus far entered Greek waters.
The EU’s border control agency, Frontex, said earlier this week that it is almost impossible due “to Greece’s geography, with its scattered islands and long coasts” to stop the refugee influx. Frontex spokeswoman Ewa Moncure told the AFP that it would also be illegal to turn asylum seekers away from Greek waters. “Under international law, every person who crosses a European border can claim asylum.”
In the meantime, Germany and five other EU states have already imposed border controls.