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Euro Chiefs Slam Delays and Failed Commitments Over Refugees

© REUTERS / Wolfgang RattayA rusty chain hangs in front of the quay of the small Luxembourg village of Schengen at the banks of the river Moselle January 27, 2016.
A rusty chain hangs in front of the quay of the small Luxembourg village of Schengen at the banks of the river Moselle January 27, 2016. - Sputnik International
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The European Commission has slammed Greece, Italy and other member states for not getting on top of the refugee crisis - by setting up refugee processing 'hotspots' or failing to secure their external borders - which could lead to suspension of the Schengen zone for two years.

Migrants try to warm up around a brazier in a muddy field at a camp of makeshift shelters. - Sputnik International
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The Commission said: "numerous deadlines have not been met and commitments are slow to be fulfilled" including the security of its external borders, demanding "that the countries along the route speed up the fulfillment of the commitments taken at the Western Balkans Leaders' Meeting and ensure that decisions taken are fully coordinated."

The news comes a week ahead of an ultimatum to Greece that — if it does not get on top of the crisis — it will be thrown out of the Schengen zone. Greece — together with Italy — bore the brunt of the huge influx of refugees this year as asylum seekers fled war zones in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya.

The Schengen area is a central pillar of the European Union, allowing for the establishment of a borderless Europe, where 26 countries have abolished passport and other border controls. However, the outer ring of the Schengen zone has been found wanting, with hundreds of thousands of people crossing into Schengen unchecked.

The sheer volume of refugees crossing into Turkey and following the so-called West Balkans route has put intense pressure on many countries in Europe, leading to some countries — including Croatia, Slovenia, Denmark, Hungary, Germany, Austria and Italy — re-establishing border control, which they are allowed to do only for a maximum of six months.

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Two Year Schengen Suspension?

The six-month deadline will arrive in mid-May and the European Commission is paving the way for EU leaders, on February 18/19 at their summit, to suspend the Schengen rules for up to two years while the crisis is resolved.

Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos told reporters: "We need urgently to shift gears."

"While the number of migrants arriving to Europe remains high, we need to step-up the implementation of the agreed European response that strikes the balance between responsibility and solidarity," he said in a statement.

"It must be clear for people arriving in the Union that if they need protection they will receive it, but it is not up to them to decide where; and if they do not qualify for protection, they will be returned. To better manage the flow of migrants and secure European borders, all Member States shall deliver on their commitments, strictly apply the European rules on asylum and border control and provide the necessary support to those Member States that are the most exposed," he said.

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