The European Commission has lashed out at member states for again missing targets for relocating refugees through the bloc today (12 April), and heaped pressure on Greece to bolster its border controls.
But its strongest language was reserved for those national governments that have repeatedly called for refugees to be rehomed – but have delivered hardly anything.
The total number of refugees relocated from Greece and Italy now stands at 1,145. EU leaders in September 2015 committed to relocate 160,000 people from Italy and Greece by September 2017.
In March, the Commission set a target of at least 6,000 people in Greece and Italy to be rehomed elsewhere in the European Union.
Just 208 people were relocated out of possible 35,000-45,000 refugees eligible for relocation in Greece, the executive said.
The total number of refugees relocated from Greece and Italy now stands at 1,145. EU leaders in September 2015 committed to relocate 160,000 refugees from Italy and Greece by September 2017.
Despite member states repeatedly vowing to increase relocation at meetings of the European Council, “relocation efforts were made by only a few member states”, the Commission said.
“Relocation efforts have to be increased dramatically to reply to the urgent humanitarian situation in Greece and to prevent any deterioration of the situation in Italy,” said Migration Commissioner Dmitris Avramopoulos.
The European Commission warned it “stood ready” to hit its member countries with legal action for failing to observe the rules. It said the targets could still be met, if countries took determined action on the ground.
Schengen under pressure
The refugee crisis has highlighted deep divisions in the EU, with member states reintroducing border controls in the passport-free Schengen zone.
The European Union said Tuesday it is “very concerned” that Austria may be preparing to reintroduce controls on its border with Italy, amid fears of a new migrant influx.
Migration Commissioner Avramopoulos will raise the issue with Austrian Interior Minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner later Tuesday, the Commission’s spokeswoman told a press conference.
Austrian police said construction work started Tuesday on concrete foundations for a planned control area off the northbound motorway at the Brenner pass in the Alps
“If these plans should materialise then we will have to look at them very seriously. The Brenner pass is essential for freedom of movement within the European Union,” Commission spokeswoman Natasha Bertaud said.
Vowing to “safeguard and strengthen” Schengen, Avramopoulous said, and “The EU’s ability to maintain an area free of internal border controls depends on our ability to effectively manage our external borders.”
Greece, on the external borders of the EU, had presented an action plan to the executive, showing how it was trying to deal with the crisis.
Officials said “significant progress” had been made, but further improvements and better implementation of some measures are needed in order to fully hit the goals set by the European Council summit last February.
The European Commission demanded more information about how Greece was bringing a 50 point recommendation list into force, and set a 26 April deadline for more information to be handed over.
More clarity is needed on how Athens intends to frontload and spend its EU funds to support these new measures
The report was based on an unannounced visit to Greek sea border and land border sites from 10 to 13 November 2015.
The recommendations highlighted problems with, sea border surveillance, border check procedures, risk analyses, human resources and training, infrastructure and equipment and international cooperation.
If “serious deficiencies persist” after three months from the adoption of the recommendation (June 2016), the EU could reintroduce border controls with Greece up to a period of two years (article 26 of Schengen Borders Code).
The EU struck a deal with Turkey in March to swap one Syrian refugee from Turkey for every Syrian they sent back from Greece.
The pact, which included a six billion euro aid package for Turkey, would stop refugees risking their lives to cross the sea from Turkey to Greece.
They would not have to rely on vicious people smugglers as they would have alternate, legal ways to get to the EU, the Commission argued.
Since 4 April, 37 Syrians were resettled to Germany, 11 to Finland and 31 to the Netherlands, the Commission said.