Now they were approaching ground zero in the intensifying debate over how to curb the unceasing stream of men, women and children from war-ravaged and poor nations in the Middle East and Africa heading to the safety and prosperity of Europe.
After trying and largely failing to persuade Turkey to stem the flow, Europe has reached a critical point in the migrant crisis. With few options left, short of halting the war in Syria, much of the Continent is coalescing around proposals that would harden the border with Macedonia and effectively turn Greece into a giant processing center for migrants.
At the border crossing here — one of the busiest gateways for migrants on the path north and the site of occasional violence between the authorities and frustrated migrants — Greece has played that filtering role to some degree for months. In theory, Greece is allowing only Syrians, Iraqis and Afghans to continue toward their preferred destinations in Germany and Austria.
The rest — from places like Iran, Morocco, Eritrea, Libya, Somalia and Congo — are supposed to be sent to camps in Athens, where they can be deported or apply for asylum in Greece, whose economic troubles would make it an unattractive new home to most migrants even if they were accepted.
But other European nations say Greece is not doing enough to enforce the border, and with the number of refugees expected to surge again as the weather improves, the pressure for a new approach is escalating rapidly.
Exasperated with what they claim is a Greek policy of waving people through to the rest of Europe, officials in the European Union are talking about temporarily expelling Greece from the bloc’s passport-free travel zone, known as the Schengen area.
The European Commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker, endorsed a separate idea to send the police from member states to Macedonia, which is not part of the European Union, to buffer its side of the border with Greece. One Belgian minister even called for refugee camps to hold 300,000 to be built in Greece.
Greek officials have reacted angrily to the proposals. They say the plans would not deter migrants from heading to Europe in the first place and would stigmatize Greece — already under heavy European Union oversight as it relies on international bailout funds — for a crisis created elsewhere in Europe.
“The climate has changed from the welcoming politics of Merkel to one of fear and panic,” said Nikos Xydakis, Greece’s foreign minister for European affairs, referring to Chancellor Angela Merkel’s decision last summer to open Germany’s doors to refugees. “If they want to raise a new Iron Curtain, we will not be the ones to blame.”
Here along the border with Macedonia, anxiety among the migrants is high. But having come this far, few of them seem to think any policy change will keep people from fleeing war, repression and poverty to seek a better life in Europe.
“I pray to my god that they don’t close the borders,” said Mohamed Salem Ibrahim, a teenager who fled Afghanistan to make the long trek to Germany.
“We have no other future but Europe,” he added, his eyes alighting on the single bag of belongings he had stowed on a bus. “We must get in one way or another.”
If border controls are imposed on Greece, Mr. Xydakis said, “the flow will stop at the Greek sea, because people won’t want to be trapped in a black box in Greece. But migrants will just find other ways to get into Europe, even if they have to go through the Arctic Circle.”
The European Union this week proposed allowing countries to suspend the Schengen agreement for up to two years, a move that could push the open-border policy toward collapse and damage economies when the bloc needs more resources to deal with the migrants. Several member countries, including Germany, Sweden, Hungary and Austria, have already temporarily reinstated border checks.
Pour lire la suite : http://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/31/world/europe/greece-resists-its-role-as-european-unions-gatekeeper.html