Council sets ’50 steps’ Athens should take to stay in Schengen

Eleonas refugee shelter, Athens. [European Commission]

Athens has been granted three months to avoid a Grexit from the Schengen zone, and improve the protection of its external borders, by implementing 50 measures specified in a document leaked by Statewatch. EURACTIV Greece reports

Statewatch revealed the draft Council implementing decision setting out a Recommendation for Greece to address deficiencies identified by the European Commission in the 2015 Schengen evaluation.

As EURACTIV reported on 29 January, the Greek government accused the executive of trying to “isolate” the debt-ridden country, and claimed that the Schengen report was politicized and tampered with.

>>Read: Greece calls Commission’s Schengen report ‘politicised’

“All the rules have been followed to the letter,” European Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship, Dimitris Avramopoulos, said in an interview with EURACTIV.

>>Read: Avramopoulos: Detention and removal centres are also needed

The document notes that 78.5% of all illegal external border crossings into Greece in the period between January and October 2015 took place over the last 3 months of that period, while more than 90,000 people were rescued in over 2,500 incidents.

“This creates great challenges in the management of the migratory and human crisis,” the draft conclusions read.

Schengen under threat

The leaked document continues, saying that Athens has taken a series of measures to address the situation, but emphasises that more efforts should be made.

“The overall functioning of the Schengen area is at serious risk, and action needs to be taken urgently. The difficulties faced in the protection of the external borders by Greece is an issue relevant to the whole EU and must be solved in the interest of the whole EU,” it said, adding that all EU member states should show “solidarity and collectively take responsibility to address the situation”.

The relocation scheme agreed on by member states has produced poor results so far, triggering strong reactions from Rome and Athens. Just 497 refugees, out of 160,000 have been relocated from Greece and Italy.

>>Read: Only 3% of Italy and Greece’s migrants sent back or settled last year

The document stressed that in addition to efficient border management, Greece should also create the much-awaited hotspots, as to date, just one is functional (Lesvos island).

Mission impossible?

The recommendations to Greece refer to improvements in registration procedures for refugees, as well as enhancing the Greek police’s role in the process. Greece has largely failed to register asylum seekers so far.

Greece should “clearly state in the documents of ‘suspension of removal’ which are provided to the irregular migrants during the registration process, that the document does not give the irregular migrant the right to stay and enter other member states, and include, where necessary, certain obligations aimed at avoiding the risk of absconding”, the paper reads.

However, it is common knowledge that most refugees have no intention of staying in Greece, and want to continue their journey to weathier EU countries.

The Council also asks Greece to immediately start the procedures for returning illegal immigrants who do not apply for asylum and are not in need of international protection, and rapidly transfer them to Turkey in accordance with the bilateral readmission agreement between Athens and Ankara.

Currently, Turkey is doing little to implement the agreement.

But after the €3 billion refugee deal between Turkey and the EU, Ankara has promised to approach the issue seriously and implement both the bilateral readmission agreement with Greece, and with the EU. The latter will take effect from June 2016.

Sea borders and extra training

Athens is also asked to improve sea border surveillance by creating an integrated and effective coastal surveillance system covering the “whole” sea border between Greece and Turkey.

“The surveillance system should provide the possibility to detect all vessels, including small boats that are crossing the sea border from Turkey to Greece; in order to identify, detect and apprehend illegal border crossers, the system should be supported by an offshore element: offshore patrol boats and vessels, helicopters, fixed wing aircraft and other means, as well as a sufficient number of land patrols on the island.”

The recommendation also says that Greece should familiarise first line border guards with foreign terrorist fighters risk indicators, as well as consider cooperating with the Turkish border control authorities at the local level “as it exists at the land border with Turkey”.

The recommendation provides for checks on cruise ships based on the crew and passenger list, and on pleasure yachts coming from third countries at a border crossing points. 

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