NEWS

Greece-Austria spat adds to pressure as EU seeks refugee response

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Europe has until a March 7 summit with Turkey to implement agreed measures to deal with the inflow of people or risk facing a collapse of the bloc’s migration system, Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos said on Thursday as Greece’s diplomatic confrontation with Austria escalated to a higher level.

“In the next 10 days, we need tangible and clear results on the ground. Otherwise there is a danger, there is a risk that the whole system will completely break down,” the EU’s migration commissioner said.

His warning came as talks between the bloc’s justice and home affairs ministers in Brussels aimed at putting together a unified response to the crisis descended into acrimony as Austria refused to take back its unilateral measures.

These measures, which effectively trap a growing number of migrants and refugees on Greek territory, prompted Athens to recall its ambassador from Austria, Chryssoula Aliferi.

In a statement, the Foreign Ministry criticized Vienna’s “19th-century” demeanor and said it was pulling out its envoy “to protect friendly relations” between the two nations.

Back in Brussels, Austria’s policies – which have been supported by several states along the Balkan migrant route – also drew fire from Greece’s Migration Minister Yiannis Mouzalas.

“Greece will not accept unilateral moves. Unilateral moves can also be made by Greece,” Mouzalas said.

Meanwhile, EU members renewed calls on Turkey to implement its part of the deal to curb migrant flows ahead of an EU-Turkey meeting in the Belgian capital on March 7.

The Greek government continued to look for more places to temporarily house migrants on Thursday. Defense Minister Panos Kammenos said that five disused military sites in northern Greece would be converted for use as camps for a total of 4,000 people.

Government sources said that Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras is hoping to be in a position at the EU-Turkey summit to show that Athens has met its pledge to create 20,000 places to host migrants.

One of the problems authorities face is convincing migrants to stay in the facilities that have been created. On Thursday, a group that had been given accommodation at the new transit center in Diavata, Thessaloniki, decided to leave on their own in a bid to make it to the border with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM). Despite only opening its doors a few days ago, the Diavata camp is already housing some 2,000 people.

Authorities have been stopping coaches traveling from the port of Piraeus toward the Idomeni border crossing in a bid to ease the pressure on the refugee camp there. Local authorities across the country have provided indoor stadiums for housing. Again, though, some migrants have decided to try to continue the journey on their own. A group that had been stopped at the Vale of Tempe, central Greece, continued on foot on Thursday. They held a Greek flag aloft as they headed north.