Schengen: Austria defies Brussels

EPA/CHRISTIAN BRUNA

Greece recalls ambassador from Vienna.

Schengen: Austria defies Brussels


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Athens recalled its ambassador to Vienna on Thursday and rejected a request for a visit by Austria’s Interior Minister on Friday, February 26.

The divide between Austria and Greece seems for the moment unbridgeable. The Greek Foreign Ministry issued a statement condemning {Austrian} “unilateral initiatives to resolve the refugee (crisis) and violations of international law and the European acquis by EU member states could undermine the foundations and the process of European unification,” it said.

The diplomatic escalation between Athens and Vienna began on Tuesday, with Athens protesting a regional conference called for Wednesday in Vienna in which Greece was not invited. In Vienna, Austria and nine Western Balkan states met on Wednesday and unilaterally decided to contain migrant flows in Greece, by placing arbitrary prohibitions beginning from Afghan refugees and scaling up document controls for Syrians and Iraqis.

Thus far Afghan refugees are entitled to international protection across the EU. 

The Vienna agreement drew immediate criticism from UNHCR Commissioner Filippo Grandi who noted that such “restrictions probably go against even European rules and regulations and certainly against basic refugee protection laws,” he said.” On Thursday, EU Commissioner for Migration Dimitris Avramopoulos  Tweeted of a possible humanitarian crisis in the Balkans and specified that this was no time for “uncoordinated actions.” Later in the day, Greek Migration Minister Yannis Mouzalas said his country would “not accept becoming Europe’s Lebanon”; Moutzalas echoed in effect a statement by the Greek Prime Minister on Wednesday, warning that Greece would not accept becoming “a warehouse of souls.” Lebanon has taken in nearly four million Syrian refugees since 2011.

Austria and Slovenia are pursuing a unilateral fix that circumvents Brussels and echoes the criticism by Amnesty International  on Wednesday that most EU member states “decided that the protection of their borders is more important than the protection of the rights of refugees.” On Friday, there were some 3,000 people waiting to cross at the border post of Idomeni and the police has of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia has only allowed some 150 people to cross since Thursday.

Meanwhile, the cost of dealing with the refugee crisis for indebted Greece is mounting.

According to the Central Bank of Greece, Athens faces a conservative estimate of €600 million for rescue operations, infrastructure, and repatriation, which is likely to escalate if borders remained sealed.

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