As Greek authorities struggle to host more than 60,000 migrants stranded in the country, the European Commission on Wednesday proposed the prolongation of border controls in the passport-free Schengen area for another three months as the bloc is still working on steps to deal with the migrant crisis.
Austria, Germany, Denmark, Sweden and non-EU country Norway introduced the checks in 2015 as an unprecedented wave of refugees streamed into Europe; the checks were extended last November and are due to expire in mid-February.
“Significant progress has been made to lift internal border controls, but we need to solidify it further,” European Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans said. “This is why we recommend allowing member-states concerned to maintain temporary border controls for a further three months.”
Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos insisted that the Schengen area would get back to normal. “These controls cannot go on for ever and they will not go on for ever,” he told reporters in Brussels, adding that the extension was a “last resort.”
In a statement meanwhile, the EC underlined the importance of “the steady delivery of results of the EU-Turkey Statement,” referring to a deal between Ankara and Brussels to curb human smuggling, and called for “the full application of the Dublin rules in Greece [to be] gradually restored as of mid-March.”
The Dublin regulation stipulates that migrants must apply for asylum in the first EU member-state they enter, usually Greece. It also foresees that migrants who have traveled further be returned to the first EU country they entered, a practice that most countries suspended due to the inordinate pressure on Greece.