EU Weighs Internal Border Checks to Shut Greek Refugee Route

  • Temporary suspension of Schengen rules to be discussed Friday
  • Greece pressed to let EU-flagged force police its sea borders

European Union governments will consider suspending some passport-free internal travel for as long as two years to prevent refugees who make it to Greece from moving on to western Europe.

The proposal, set for an initial discussion in Brussels on Friday, would temporarily cut Greece off from the system and give countries further north more leeway to impose their own controls. It is meant to pressure Greece into allowing EU policing of its Aegean Sea border with Turkey.

Greece, the main EU entry point for Middle Eastern refugees, has resisted outsourcing its border management to an EU-flagged force and has been accused by countries such as Hungary of opening the gates to migrants.

An “underground discussion” is taking place over a Greek suspension, Greek Migration Policy Minister Ioannis Mouzalas told reporters in Athens on Thursday. He blamed the threat on “lies, distortions and perhaps some of our own weaknesses.”

‘Serious Deficiencies’

Laws on the Schengen system of passport-free travel between 22 EU countries and four outside the bloc were revised in 2013 to enable the suspension of a country for up to two years in case of “serious deficiencies” in external border management.

Greece responded late Thursday to weeks of criticism of its border-control failings by invoking the EU’s disaster-relief mechanism, which provides for humanitarian aid in case of natural or medical emergencies.

Friday’s meeting of the home affairs ministers of the 28 EU countries may prompt an assessment of Greece’s border controls. If found negligent, Greece would be given three months to tighten its controls or face a suspension.

EU Commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas said the extreme scenario of suspension isn’t on the agenda. Speaking to reporters on Thursday, he added that “there are a certain number of improvements that need to be done in Greece’s external frontiers.”

Friday’s meeting will go beyond Greece to enable “one or more member states” to reintroduce identity checks “at all or at specific parts of their internal borders,” according to a preparatory document published by the Statewatch.org civil liberties website.

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