Why Greece is angry about being excluded from migrants meeting

Greece recalled its Austrian ambassador on Thursday, and expressed displeasure with a meeting of Balkan nations outlining a strategy for migration that may impact its own rapidly increasing refugee count.

Yannis Behrakis/Reuters
Stranded refugees and migrants walk through a national motorway towards the Greek-Macedonian border near the Greek town of Polykastro after ignoring warnings from Greek authorities that the border is shut, as hundreds of migrants set off on the country's main north-south motorway to the Idomeni border crossing.

Amid the crisis that has European nations struggling to manage the record amounts of migrants pouring into them, Greece recalled its ambassador to Austria after it was not informed of a border control meeting held by the eastern European republic.

The Austrian-led meeting Wednesday resulted in several Balkan nations declaring that they could eventually shut their doors to migrants, a move that angered Greece due to its exclusion from the talks and the ramifications for its own refugee issues. Germany was not invited either.

The meeting resulted in a declaration from the participating countries calling for tighter control over the migration process, which could create even more of a problem for Greek migration authorities to deal with.

Migrants hoping to travel through Europe are bottlenecked in the Hellenic Republic, leading to the heightened trouble it has had dealing with the crisis. The Associated Press reports that Greece sees around 2,000 illegal entries per day and has received more than 1 million since the beginning of 2015. But while Greece and its Mediterranean neighbor, Italy, take in most of the European Union (EU) arrivals, strategies on how to subsequently distribute the migrant burden in an equal way across European nations remains a contentious issue.

The EU plans to spread 160,000 migrants from Greece and Italy throughout its member states over two years, although few EU countries have offered up spots for the effort. Greece has said it “will not assent to agreements” made at an upcoming EU migration summit if the sharing of refugees does not become an EU obligation, according to Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras.

More than 100,000 migrants have already entered Europe this year, far outpacing the rate in 2015, according to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM).

Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias announced that its Austrian ambassador was recalled to Athens Thursday for “consultations aimed at safeguarding the friendly relations between the states and peoples of Greece and Austria,” according to a release from his office.

“It is clear that the major problems of the European Union cannot be confronted via thoughts, attitudes and extra-institutional initiatives,” the brief read. “Responsibility for dealing with the migration and refugee crisis cannot weigh on one country alone. Common sense dictates that effective handling of this complex problem should be governed by the principles of solidarity and fair burden sharing.”

“We need measures that lead to a ... a domino effect. We must reduce the flow of migrants now,"  Austrian Interior Minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner said, according to the Associated Press. “Because the refugee question can become a question of survival for the European Union.”

If the countries north of Greece were to close their borders, it could become overwhelmed with migrants within days. Macedonia, which borders Greece, allowed 100 people to enter on Thursday, and Austria limits 80 per day through its borders. Meanwhile, buses carrying hundreds of refugees were stopped throughout Greece to slow a buildup of hopeful migrants at its border.

Greece and Austria are not the only countries at odds over how to deal with the historic refugee influx. Germany, which took in more than 1 million migrants in 2015 alone, is sending mixed messages on Austria’s actions and how the EU should proceed. And France and Belgium, historically on good terms, are locked in a battle over their border and migrant camps there.

EU migration commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos, at a Thursday meeting of 28 EU members’ interior ministers, expressed that “[T]he unity of the union and lives — human lives — are at stake,” in the migrant crisis.

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