NEWS

Greek PM pledges to fight Austrian-led border shutdown

TAGS: Migration, EU

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras threatened Wednesday to reject European Union agreements if other countries continue to take action that would lead to refugees and migrants becoming trapped in Greece.

“We will not accept turning the country into a warehouse of souls,” Tsipras told Parliament Wednesday. “Greece will not agree to deals if the allocation of responsibilities among member countries is not secured.”

The premier’s comments came after 10 countries, including four EU members, agreed during a summit in Austria to take steps to limit the flow of migrants. Tsipras said Austria’s behavior was “unacceptable.”

The premier said that he would call a meeting of party leaders to discuss the refugee crisis before the EU’s planned summit with Turkey on the same issue on March 7.

In Vienna, the Austrian government agreed with nine Balkan countries (EU members Slovenia, Croatia, Bulgaria and non-members Albania, Bosnia, Kosovo, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Serbia) to limit the number of migrants crossing their borders. A joint statement issued by the countries taking part in the summit said there was an agreement to improve cooperation and turn away “migrants not in need of international protection.”

“The migration flow along the Western Balkans route needs to be substantially reduced,” said the statement.

“There is still no European solution in sight. For that reason, it is necessary for us to take national measures,” Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz told reporters in Vienna. He also criticized Greece.

“There is no readiness to reduce the flow,” Kurz claimed. “The interest on the Greek side is only in transporting refugees as quickly as possible towards Central Europe.”

The Vienna agreement, however, drew immediate condemnation from Filippo Grandi, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, who was visiting Greece. “[These] restrictions probably go against even European rules and regulations and certainly against basic refugee protection laws,” he said.

“We are worried that these closings are happening and that there are no corresponding openings through relocation and resettlement,” Grandi added, saying that there was a risk of “chaos and confusion” in Greece.

Grandi held talks in Athens with Tsipras but also visited Lesvos, which is the Greek island on which most refugees and migrants crossing the Aegean arrive.

Grandi, who took over as the head of UNHCR on January 1, said he was impressed by the dedication and effectiveness of the Greek coast guard in rescuing refugees and pleased by the progress in processing those arriving on Lesvos.

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