Greece has accused the EU of applying a double standard when dealing with Ukrainians fleeing the war, compared with the victims of other conflicts.
Greece's migration affairs minister, Notis Mitarachi, on Monday (September 26) urged the European Union to lift movement restrictions for refugees recognized by individual nations.
He criticized the the bloc's unequal treatment of people fleeing violence, allowing for different rights for Ukrainians fleeing the Russian invasion, compared with people of other conflicts.
Mitarachi 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.
Schengen and border controls
During the COVID-19 pandemic, freedom of movement was heavily restricted, as many EU states went into lockdown and closed their borders to stem the spread of the virus. However, even as restrictions began to lift some member states, including Austria, France and Sweden, have introduced almost permanent internal border controls, circumventing the Schengen Agreement on free movement.
According to the Schengen Agreement, border controls should only be conducted at the area's external borders and not within it. Internal controls can only last for up to six months and each new decision to grant temporary border controls must be based on a new assessment and be justified on the grounds of a serious threat.
Earlier this year, the European Court of Justice ruled that the persistent granting of such short-term controls is illegal. The European Commission has yet to take legal action against countries in breach of the Schengen rules.
Resettlement and EU solidarity
Greece's proposal could help to manage capacities of countries positioned at the EU's external border to offer support to refugees. Greece has been a key transit point for hundreds of thousands of migrants and refugees entering the EU in recent years, many fleeing wars in Iraq and Syria. Although, it has since toughened its borders and built a steel wall along its land border with Turkey.
In the meantime, 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.