NEWS

Schengen membership in doubt, Papoutsis says

Greece?s efforts to tackle illegal immigration are still being monitored by European authorities and there is still a possibility that the country could be excluded from the 25-nation Schengen zone in Europe, which allows passport-free travel in the area, Citizens? Protection Minister Christos Papoutsis said Tuesday.

?The Schengen issue is not over yet,? he said during a news conference. ?We are being constantly monitored on how we are applying the terms of the agreement. The possibility of being excluded or of the gradual freezing of Greece?s participation in Schengen is hanging over us.?

One of the contentious areas is Greece?s failure to construct new reception centers for illegal immigrants. An action plan drawn up in May foresaw 14 centers being made available to accommodate migrants. Of those, 10 are up and running but they had already been constructed at the time the plan was formed. Six of those are in Attica and the other four are in Evros, northeastern Greece. However, the EU had agreed with Athens that it would build a new center in Evros, which is a main gateway for immigrants to cross into Greece from Turkey.

Papoutsis said that local authorities have provided a building in the northwestern port of Igoumenitsa, also a main gathering point for illegal immigrants, that could be converted into a reception center. European Commission officials will have to approve the building?s suitability, said the minister.

Under draft legislation unveiled by the European Commission in September, border controls could be reintroduced to deal with unexpected flows of immigrants or if a member of the Schengen area fails to police its borders with non-European Union countries.

Greece has already received help from the Union?s border monitoring agency, Frontex, after a sharp increase in the number of illegal immigrants reaching its borders from Turkey.

France, Germany and Spain have opposed the Commission?s draft as they believe it gives Brussels too much power. They argue that the right to restore border controls should rest with national governments.