Greece recalled its ambassador from Austria today and warned it would not be treated as “Europe’s Lebanon” as the migrant crisis strained relations between EU states to breaking point.
Talks between European Union (EU) interior ministers in Brussels descended into chaos due to the row over Austria’s decision to call a western Balkans meeting this week without inviting Greece.
The EU’s attempts to forge a unified response to the biggest migration crisis in its history are fraying as individual 28 member states increasingly take matters into their own hands to protect their borders.
The Greek foreign ministry hit out at what it called “19th-century” attitudes and said the envoy’s recall was designed to “safeguard friendly relations between the states and peoples of Greece and Austria”.
Athens was already seething over a series of border restrictions by Austria, Macedonia and Serbia along the migrant trail to northern Europe that has caused a bottleneck in Greece, the main entry point to Europe from Turkey.
Greece, still struggling with the fallout from its eurozone debt crisis last year, faces huge pressure to stop “waving through” migrants to the rest of the EU.
But Migration Minister Yannis Mouzalas accused other states of trying to make Athens take the brunt of the crisis.
“Greece will not accept becoming Europe’s Lebanon, a warehouse of souls, even if this were to be done with major (EU) funding,” Mouzalas told reporters in Brussels.
Lebanon hosts around a quarter of the four million Syrians who have fled to neighbouring countries.
In northern Greece, hundreds of migrants and refugees left an accommodation camp to walk to the distant border with Macedonia, days after Skopje slashed the number of people it allows through each day.
“They are mainly youths... they do not want to wait for buses to pick them up... neither the army nor the police can stop them because there is the risk of (violence),” Thessaloniki Mayor Yiannis Boutaris said.
The crisis caused by refugees and migrants from Syria, the Middle East and Africa shows no signs of abating with 100,000 arriving in Europe so far this year on top of one million in 2015.
Earlier EU migration commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos urged ministers to find a solution, warning that the crisis threatened the survival of the more than 60-year-old union.
“Lonely initiatives do not lead anywhere. Now, the unity of the union and human lives are at stake,” said Avramopoulos, who is from Greece.
But Austrian interior minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner raised the possibility of Greece’s exclusion from Europe’s Schengen passport-free travel zone, which is cracking as countries reintroduce border controls.