EU urges Greece to take steps to tighten bloc's external border

Migrants arrive on the shores of the Greek island of Lesbos after crossing the Aegean Sea from Turkey on a dinghy on Sept 10, 2015.
Migrants arrive on the shores of the Greek island of Lesbos after crossing the Aegean Sea from Turkey on a dinghy on Sept 10, 2015.PHOTO: AFP

STRASBOURG, France (AFP) - The EU on Tuesday (Feb 2) urged Greece to take specific steps to remedy failures to check the flow of asylum seekers to its shores and protect the 28-nation bloc's external border.

The European Commission, the EU executive, recommended Greece improve registration procedures, including making sure migrants are properly fingerprinted and their documents checked against various security data bases.

It also urged Greece to properly accommodate asylum seekers while they are registered, work towards deporting economic migrants who cannot be classified as refugees, and improve border surveillance.

The recommendations came as the commission adopted a draft report published last week that said Greece had failed to protect the EU's external frontiers from the continent's biggest influx of refugees and migrants since World War II.

If Greece fails to comply with the recommendations, Brussels could authorise EU member countries to exceptionally extend border controls within the Schengen area - including with Greece - for up to two years.

The Schengen area allows passport-free travel through 26 countries, most of them in the European Union, and is held up as one of the major European achievements.

"Our ability to maintain an area free of internal border controls depends on our ability to effectively manage our external borders," Dimitris Avramopoulos said in a statement.

"Today we are proposing a set of recommendations to ensure that, at all external borders of Greece, controls are carried out and brought in line with Schengen rules," he said. "We will only save Schengen by applying Schengen." The commission specifically asked Greece to provide enough staff and fingerprint scanners to register migrants as well as check their travel documents against Schengen Information System, Interpol and national databases.

"Border surveillance should be improved, including the establishment of a risk analysis system and increased training of border guards," the commission said.

Last week's damning report said Greece faces border controls with the rest of the Schengen passport-free zone in three months if it fails to act.

Based on an inspection at the Turkish land border and on several islands in the Aegean Sea, the EU found Greece was failing to properly register and fingerprint migrants.

The highly critical draft report by Brussels heaps pressure on Greece, the main gateway for the one million refugees and migrants who entered Europe last year.