Greek ambassador returns to Austria after spat over migrants

Reuters News
Posted: May 11, 2016 1:20 PM

VIENNA (Reuters) - Greece's ambassador returned to Austria on Wednesday, three months after Athens recalled her to protest over border closures agreed between Vienna and several Balkan states that left tens of thousands of refugees stranded in Greece.

Athens angrily recalled its envoy, Chryssoula Aliferi, in February after being excluded from a meeting hosted by Vienna that coordinated the border restrictions across the Balkans to limit the northward flow of migrants.

As a result of the restrictions, about 10,000 people set up Europe's biggest refugee camp on the Greek side of the Macedonian border.

But the number of new arrivals has dropped sharply since the European Union struck a deal with Turkey. Under the accord Turkey takes back migrants who leave for Greece from its shores in return for cash, a pledge to scrap visas for Turks visiting Europe and an acceleration of Ankara's EU accession talks.

"The situation has improved a lot," Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias told a joint news conference in Vienna with his Austrian counterpart where he announced the envoy's return.

Kotzias said the EU-Turkey deal had alleviated the problem, adding: "I hope Turkey stays on a cooperation course with the EU and that the proposed arrangements do apply."

But amid tensions with Ankara over some terms of the deal, Austria's Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz cautioned that the EU should avoid becoming dependent on Turkey.

Kurz also said EU countries needed to "jointly develop common solutions" to problems.

(Reporting by Kirsti Knolle; Editing by Gareth Jones)