Greece Hit With EU Warning Over Management of Refugee Influx

  • Risk that migrants will be unable to travel north from Greece
  • Greek government may face three-month deadline for action

The Greek government faced the starkest European Union warning to date over shortcomings in documenting the influx of Middle Eastern refugees, raising the specter of internal-EU border closures that could keep migrants stuck in impoverished Greece.

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The European Commission said Greece is failing to heed the terms of an agreement on passport-free travel in the so-called Schengen zone of 26 countries and sent a report on the matter to all EU governments. If a majority of them endorses the finding, Greece would have three months to address the concerns or risk the closure of internal-EU borders to people arriving from the country for as long as two years.

“Greece is seriously neglecting its obligations,” Valdis Dombrovskis, a vice president of the commission, the 28-nation EU’s executive arm, told reporters on Wednesday in Brussels. “The report notably finds that there is no effective identification and registration of irregular migrants and that fingerprints are not being systematically entered into the system and travel documents are not being systematically checked for authenticity or against crucial security databases.”

Greece, still seeking to emerge from the euro-area debt crisis that the country triggered in late 2009, has also been thrust into the spotlight as the EU struggles to get a grip on the largest European refugee wave since World War II. Greece is the main EU entry point for asylum seekers who are fleeing Syria, Afghanistan and other war-torn nations and heading to prosperous northern Europe, with thousands arriving daily on Greek islands by sea from Turkey.

The Greek government of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has said it is effectively registering migrants and the onus is on Turkey to stem arrivals and on other EU governments to enact an accord on the relocation of refugees within the bloc.

The confidential report on Greece being sent to EU governments is based on unannounced visits to the Greek islands of Chios and Samos and to the Greek-Turkish land border from Nov. 10 to Nov. 13 last year, according to the commission.

Greek government spokeswoman Olga Gerovasili said in an e-mailed statement on Wednesday that the situation when the report was taken “was very different than today” and it wasn’t “constructive to attempt isolation of Greece.”