Wed | Nov 21, 2018

EU ministers want to buttress borders to stem refugee flow

Published:Sunday | February 7, 2016 | 12:00 AM
A Syrian child arrives at the Bab al-Salam border crossing with Turkey, in Syria, yesterday. Thousands of Syrians have rushed towards the Turkish border, fleeing fierce Syrian government offensives and intense Russian airstrikes.


European Union (EU) nations, anxious to stem the flow of asylum-seekers coming through the Balkans, are increasingly considering sending more help to non-member Macedonia as a better way to protect European borders instead of relying on Greece.

With Athens unable to halt the tens of thousands of people making the sea crossing from Turkey, EU nations fear that Europe's Schengen border-free travel zone could collapse, taking with it one of the cornerstones on which the 28-nation bloc is built.

"If Greece is not ready or able to protect the Schengen zone and doesn't accept any assistance from the EU, then we need another defence line, which is obviously Macedonia and Bulgaria," Hungarian Foreign Affairs Minister Peter Szijjarto said at yesterday's meeting of EU foreign ministers in Amsterdam.

An estimated 850,000 migrants arrived in Greece in 2015, overwhelming its coast guard and reception facilities. Aid groups say cash-strapped Greece has shelter for only about 10,000 people, just over one per cent of those who have entered. Most of the asylum-seekers then travel on across the Balkans and into the EU's heartland of Germany and beyond.

Szijjarto said EU nations are, "defenceless from the south. There are thousands of irregular migrants entering the territory of the EU on a daily basis."

Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz said the cash-strapped government in Athens still underestimates the crisis.

"I still don't have the feeling that it has dawned on Greece how serious the situation is" for receiving nations like Austria, he said.