Greeks Worry What's Behind EU Plan To Force Greece Out Of Passport-Free Zone
RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
In an attempt to bring order to the huge influx of migrants in the past year, six European nations so far have reinstituted border controls in what was supposed to be a free-travel zone. Tomorrow, the leaders of the EU's 28 member nations meet in Brussels. Greece is ground zero for the migrant crisis. And we spoke with reporter Joanna Kakissis in Athens about what's on the agenda for the EU.
JOANNA KAKISSIS, BYLINE: They're going to be talking once again about migration. And this is an issue, as you mentioned, that's really divided the 28 member states in the union. There are countries like, you know, Hungary and Slovakia, they really blame Greece for all the problems. They say Greece has failed to seal its sea border, and it's a sea border with Turkey. And that's why they say hundreds of thousands of migrants were able to enter the EU last year. Some of these countries are also pushing to exclude Greece from what's called the Schengen zone. That's the passport-free travel zone in Europe. And if that were to happen, then migrants wouldn't be able to travel freely from Greece to the rest of Europe. One of Greece's biggest complaints throughout this whole debate is that the EU has not helped Greece with migration until recently. I was on the Greek island of Lesbos last week, and I spoke to this hotel owner there, Aphrodite Vati Mariola. She says the EU has failed to manage this crisis, and it's actually scapegoating Greece.
APHRODITE VATI MARIOLA: This is not only Greece's borders. These are the borders of the EU. And so we expected more assistance rather than having them point a finger at us saying, you need to protect your borders better. Well, if we need to do that, and this is all coast land, and we're islands, well then it's very easy to say that from your office in the EU.
MONTAGNE: Right, so those borders are the outer borders of the EU, as she is pointing out. The EU is helping now, as is NATO. What changed?
KAKISSIS: Well, yes, the EU's border agency that's called Frontex, they were finally authorized to send extra boats to help the Greek Coast Guard patrol the sea. And now this week, there are four NATO warships in the Aegean. And they're supposed to be there to crack down on smugglers. From the point of view of the Greeks, this is really more of a political statement, a symbolic move because the exodus of migrants into Europe doesn't seem to be stopping. And until NATO arrived, about 2000 people a day were still arriving on Greek shores.
MONTAGNE: There are, Joanna, some EU countries that want migrants to stay in Greece because, of course, now Greece is a pass-through country. How do the Greeks feel about that?
KAKISSIS: Yeah, you're right. Yeah, some European leaders say, you know, the migrants should stay in Greece until they're either granted asylum in some EU country or deported. And some EU leaders want migrants to be housed in these registration and screening centers that are called hotspots. They're on the Greek islands in the Aegean Sea. And the EU also wants Greece to improve screening of migrants. But, you know, there has been some reaction. Most of it has been muted on the Greek islands. But on one island, Kos, there have been some NIMBY-style protests against the hot spot there. The mayor there is very intolerant of migrants. And he says they're driving tourists away. And that's not a small thing because the Greek economy, it's based on tourism. That's where it gets most of its money.
MONTAGNE: Joanna, thanks very much.
KAKISSIS: You're welcome, Renee.
MONTAGNE: Joanna Kakissis, speaking to us from Athens. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.