Greece could soon be suspended from Europe’s free-travel Schengen zone if the country doesn’t increase its border controls for migrants and refugees coming through the island nation, European Union officials said.
The European Commission said that Greece has failed its obligation of conducting necessary steps before allowing migrants to flow into Europe, in accordance with the rules governing Europe’s 26-country passport-free travel area, known as Schengen.
The European Commission Vice President, Valdis Dombrovskis, said that an assessment on Greece’s border procedures, carried out in November found that “there is no effective identification and registration of irregular migrants, fingerprints are not being entered systematically into the system, [and that ] travel documents are not being systematically checked for authenticity or against crucial security databases.”
The draft response on Greece’s performance has to be endorsed by a qualified majority of EU governments, which will give Greece until May to tighten its border controls, before it could face isolation from the Schengen countries.
"If the necessary action is not being taken and deficiencies persist, there is a possibility to ... allow member states to temporarily close their borders," Dombrovskis said, according to Reuters.
EU states, including Germany, Austria, and Hungary, have already introduced temporary border controls that are set to end in May but could be extended up to two years, according to Article 26 of the Schengen Borders Code, the BBC reported. Article 26 of the code allows states to extend the controls "in exceptional circumstances."
The Schengen zone has 26 members, with six having temporary borders, including Austria, Denmark, France, Germany, Norway, and Sweden.
Under the Schengen system, most EU travelers don’t have their passports checked against police databases at the EU's external borders, but that could change soon if the proposed December amendment becomes law. The amendment would also require non-EU nationals who have a Schengen visa to carry identification, even though they have generally been exempted. The ID checks, however, have become more common since the terrorist attacks in Paris last November, the BBC reports.
Greece has been the main gateway to Europe via Turkey. More than 850,000 migrants and refugees arrived in Greece last year, overwhelming and prompting officials to “let refugees and migrants through, and deeper into Europe rather than keep them on Greek soil for proper registration,” according to Al Jazeera America. A further 44,000 have reached the Greek islands since the start of 2016, mostly arriving on Lesbos, Samos, and Chios from the Turkish mainland.
The European Commission, earlier this week, said that “60 percent of those entering the EU currently were ‘economic migrants’ who were not fleeing war, were not in need of protection and should be deported,” contradicting statistics released by the Greek foreign minister showing that “90 percent of the new arrivals last year were from Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan, most of whom would routinely qualify for refugee status, the Guardian reported.