EU refugee crisis deepens as Athens recalls envoy

Ms Mikl-Leitner, Austria's Interior Minister, saw her request to visit Greece rejected yesterday as the acrimony over asylum seekers worsened.
Ms Mikl-Leitner, Austria's Interior Minister, saw her request to visit Greece rejected yesterday as the acrimony over asylum seekers worsened.

Greek-Austrian row adds to dire warning that bloc's migration system could crumble soon

BRUSSELS • Greece furiously recalled its ambassador from Austria and Brussels warned the bloc's migration system could collapse within 10 days as Europe's refugee crisis neared breaking point on Thursday.

Further chaos loomed as a French court approved the partial evacuation of the "Jungle" migrant camp near the port of Calais on the coast, a move that Belgium fears will send Britain-bound migrants its way.

Attempts by European Union interior ministers meeting in Brussels to agree on a unified response to the biggest migration crisis in the bloc's history frayed over the fact that many states are increasingly taking matters into their own hands.

The talks descended into acrimony over Austria's decision to freeze Greece out of a meeting earlier this week with Balkan states, at which they agreed on steps that would effectively trap many asylum seekers on Greek territory.

The Greek Foreign Ministry hit out at what it called "19th century" attitudes and said it was recalling its envoy from Vienna. Greece yesterday refused a visit request by Austrian Interior Minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner, adding fuel to the row.

Greek Migration Minister Yannis Mouzalas, meanwhile, said "Greece will not become a new Lebanon for Europe, a warehouse of souls", referring to the huge number of Syrian refugees that Lebanon has taken in.


ST GRAPHICS

Greece has asked its passenger ferry companies and travel agencies to cut back on bringing migrants and refugees from frontline islands to the mainland and said its own chartered ships would stay put for a few days.

EU migration commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos said the bloc's migration system could crumble if the number of migrants does not fall by the time EU leaders hold a crucial summit with Turkey in Brussels on March 7.

"In the next 10 days, we need tangible and clear results on the ground. Otherwise, there is a risk that the whole system will completely break down," he said, urging EU states to avoid unilateral actions.

But Austria and the Balkan states insist they need to act because the EU's plans are not working and Greece is not doing enough.

"If it is really the case that the Greek external border cannot be protected, can it be still a Schengen external border?" Ms Mikl-Leitner wondered at the EU interior ministers' meeting.

In France, a court gave the green light to plans to evacuate hundreds of migrants from the notorious "Jungle" camp in Calais, a process that the mayor said would take place over the next three weeks.

Belgium has decided to impose checks at the border with France to stop people coming from the Calais camp, a decision that French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve on Thursday branded "strange".

The European Commission said separately it failed to "understand" Hungary's decision to hold a referendum on mandatory quotas for refugees that the bloc had agreed on last year.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 27, 2016, with the headline 'EU refugee crisis deepens as Athens recalls envoy'. Print Edition | Subscribe