Closing borders to Balkans would cause major crisis in Greece: minister

Reuters News
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Posted: Feb 18, 2016 5:19 AM

BERLIN (Reuters) - Greece's Migration Minister Yannis Mouzalas has said that closing the borders to the Balkans would trigger a "major humanitarian crisis" in his country and would not stop the influx of migrants.

He told German business daily Handelsblatt that the only way to stop refugees coming was to put an end to Syria's civil war. He said the European Union needed to work on that as well as tackling the humanitarian crisis in Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey.

"That's the only way we can overcome the crisis. Border closures don't help," he said in an interview published on Thursday, just before a summit of European Union leaders in Brussels with the refugee crisis high on the agenda.

Macedonia has erected two lines of metal fencing topped with razor wire at the main crossing point for migrants along its southern border with Greece.

Asked about the impact that sealing frontiers with the Balkans would have, Mouzalas said: "If a border were to be closed now, it would cause a major humanitarian crisis in Greece."

He said only 430 refugees had so far been resettled from Greece as part of an EU scheme that stipulated the relocation of at least 160,000 from Greece and Italy.

EU members Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia are deeply opposed to any quota system and want tighter controls on the borders of Balkan countries neighboring Greece if attempts to limit the numbers from Turkey to Greece fail.

On Tuesday, EU Council President Donald Tusk said Europe needed to improve the protection of its external borders and that required more efforts by Greece as well as more support from its European Union partners.

But Mouzalas said Greece was protecting its borders and had "the best possible controls" in place on both land and sea.

He said that there were 700 officers from Frontex, the European Union's border agency, in place on Greek islands but that was less than the 1,800 Greece had asked for.

(Reporting by Michelle Martin; Editing by Tom Heneghan)