European guards will help Greeks manage their frontier with Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), the EU border agency Frontex said on Thursday after a deal that addresses concerns in the bloc over Athens’ commitment to control migration.
Other EU states had been piling pressure on Greece to accept help for registering and documenting migrants trying to head north across the Balkans towards Germany and other wealthy states, and had wanted to see a deal by the time interior ministers meet in Brussels on Friday to review efforts to stem migration flows.
Frontex said it would help to register migrants at the FYROM border and would deploy more personnel there next week. Greek officials confirmed Frontex’s role and insisted that Athens had not previously refused help.
"Migrants at Greece’s northern border will be checked and those found not properly identified will be registered," said Frontex Executive Director Fabrice Leggeri in a statement that also noted that EU states had so far provided Frontex with only 447 of the additional 775 staff it asked for in October.
In recent days, non-EU FYROM has tightened its border and let through only Syrians, Iraqis and Afghans – seen as more likely to be granted asylum in the EU. That has led to a buildup of some 1,500 migrants, mainly from Pakistan, Iran and Morocco, and to protests and two deaths.
Frontex already has 195 officers on Greek islands off the Turkish coast registering arrivals, about a third of whom, EU officials say, are refugees from the Syrian civil war.
Many migrants, however, notably South Asians who would be unlikely to qualify for asylum in the EU, try to avoid registration or claiming asylum in Greece and move quickly north into FYROM, heading for prosperous northwest Europe. The movement of hundreds of thousands of people has set governments against each other and badly strained Europe’s Schengen zone of passport-free travel.
The Luxembourg minister who will chair Friday’s meeting in Brussels said he opposed suggestions from some other states that Greece be suspended from the Schengen zone for failing to secure its section of the bloc’s external border. But he told Reuters that Athens must accept help from EU agencies.
Greek government spokeswoman Olga Gerovassili told Greek radio: "It is completely inaccurate that Greece is not accepting the help of Frontex … At the same time, not even one tenth of the assistance we have requested of Frontex has been sent."
Luxembourg will present a paper on Friday proposing possible amendments to the Schengen rules. It also suggests activating a previously unused article of the Schengen treaty that would extend European governments’ rights to impose border checks with each other for up to two years.