ATHENS – Greece on Monday urged the European Union to lift movement restrictions for refugees recognized by individual nations, accusing the bloc of applying a double standard when dealing with Ukrainians fleeing the war compared with the victims of other conflicts.
Notis Mitarachi, Greece's migration affairs minister, said a “lack of solidarity” was holding up efforts to comprehensively reform migration rules across the 27-nation bloc.
Refugees granted international protection by EU nations currently cannot take full advantage of the bloc’s provisions for free movement. But Ukrainians escaping the Russian invasion of their country face fewer restrictions.
“That is not fair, and Greece will insist on that point ... the Ukrainian arrangement should apply to all refugees as long as they are officially recognized,” Mitarachi said. “Unfortunately, the EU at some point decided that countries of entry ... would be used like a parking lot for refugees who want to come to Europe.”
The EU is struggling to overcome divisions among its members over rules for refugee settlement and border protection but wants a new migration pact to be hammered out next year.
Negotiations have shifted from resettlement quotas, which many eastern European countries have rejected, to a proposed voluntary mechanism.
Mitarachi welcomed a reported proposal that refugees could be granted free movement after a three-year waiting period, but warned that resettlement was likely to remain a major sticking point.
He told reporters: “If we don’t see progress on the issue of solidarity, a (new deal) won’t make it past the EU Council or lawmakers" in the next few years.
Greece was a key transit point for hundreds of thousands of migrants and refugees entering the EU in 2015-16, many fleeing wars in Iraq and Syria. It has since toughened its borders and built a steel wall along its land border with Turkey.
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