The European Commission on Wednesday proposed the extension of emergency border controls inside the passport-free Schengen area, declaring that the tighter checks were justified by shortfalls in Greece’s management of the European Union’s external border.
“There is still considerable migratory pressure at our external border, and large numbers of migrants present in Greece,” Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans said, citing “serious deficiencies” in Greece’s border management.
The Commission’s proposal basically grants five countries the right to continue with stringent border controls along their frontiers for another six months, namely Austria, Germany, Denmark, Sweden and Norway.
The announcement followed an inspection of Greek border controls by Commission officials last month. The officials were seeking to determine whether Greece’s management of the EU’s external borders had improved in the wake of a report in November that underlined shortfalls in Greece’s border controls. The report discerned some progress but found that shortfalls remain.
“The aim is that, by the end of this year, the Schengen zone will be fully normalized,” the EU’s Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos told reporters in Brussels, indicating that intensified controls would be lifted as soon as migration flows were under control. He noted that a large number of migrants and refugees remain in camps in Greece and in countries of the Western Balkans.
Greek authorities are planning to evacuate thousands of refugees and migrants from a makeshift camp near the village of Idomeni in northern Greece by May 30, Migration Policy Minister Yiannis Mouzalas is said to have told Thessaloniki Mayor Yiannis Boutaris and regional authority officials during a meeting in the northern port city on Wednesday.
According to sources, Mouzalas aims to enlist the help of nongovernmental organizations and human rights groups in moving the migrants away from the camp peacefully. The minister is said to have repeatedly stressed his commitment to ensuring that no force is used during the evacuation.
Although there appears to be no indication that the approximately 10,000 residents of the camp are planning to move away, Boutaris told a local radio station that the refugees “have started to realize that there is no point in them just sitting there and that it is better if they move to the encampments,” he said, referring to state-run facilities for the temporary accommodation of migrants.
According to Boutaris, Mouzalas said that most of the migrants currently in Greece – between 30,000 and 40,000 of a rough total of 50,000 – are likely to stay here.
An ongoing occupation by migrants of the railway line connecting Greece to the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia has resulted in some 4 million euros’ worth of cargo transfers being canceled.