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23 Jan, 2016 23:29

Austria threatens Greece with Schengen exclusion over failure to seal borders for migrants

Athens is not fulfilling its obligations to the EU in terms of securing the bloc’s external borders, the Austrian Interior Minister said, warning that Greece might be excluded from the free-travel Schengen zone for the time being.

“If the Athens government does not finally do more to secure the [EU’s] external borders, then one must openly discuss Greece’s temporary exclusion from the Schengen zone,” Austrian Interior Minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner said in an interview with Germany’s Die Welt newspaper.

Greece has been failing to halt the influx of migrants at its borders, the Austrian official said, adding that “it is a myth that the Greco-Turkish border cannot be controlled.”

With hundreds of migrants arriving daily to Greece, the Mediterranean country is one of the main entrances to the EU for asylum-seekers. More than 31,000 refugees have arrived in Greece by sea since the start of 2016, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM). Last year, of over a million refugees and migrants who reached Europe, the vast majority first entered through Greece. Over 853,000 people arrived there by sea, IOM said.

“When a Schengen signatory does not permanently fulfill its obligations and only hesitatingly accepts aid then we should not rule out that possibility [of exclusion],” Mikl-Leitner said, adding that the governments must act now as “the patience of many Europeans has reached its limit.”

A spokesman for Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras denied that the EU made any official threat to that effect, according to AFP.

READ MORE: Schengen at risk: EU has 'no more than 2 months' to get refugee crisis under control, Tusk warns

Austria has already halted free travel at its borders, effectively excluding itself from the passport-free zone. Recently, the EU state implemented a strict monitoring system for asylum seekers at its borders, becoming another of the present six Schengen-zone states that have reintroduced checks at their borders.

“Essentially we will have a Schengen agreement that will not be functioning, if all the countries of the EU start imposing internal border controls. Never was it in the mind of the fathers of the European Union to create a European Union of walls, preventing people from coming in,” former Greek diplomat Leonidas Chrysanthopoulos told RT.

READ MORE: Hungary’s PM urges building of fence on Bulgarian, Macedonian borders with Greece

Germany, which has also stepped up internal border control, has criticized Vienna's warning to Athens. German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier called it a “pseudo-solution,” AFP reported. “There won't be any solution to the refugee crisis if solidarity disappears,” the German minister said, adding that instead the bloc's members must “reinforce the EU's outer borders” and achieve a fair redistribution of asylum seekers within Europe.

Last month, Greece’s exclusion from the Schengen was ruled out by the EU, with Luxembourg's Minister of Immigration Jean Asselborn saying that “it is not legally possible to exclude a state from the Schengen zone.”