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German finance minister censures Greece for refugee policy

The German finance minister has censured Greece for its handling of an influx of refugees from violence-torn countries into Europe.

In an interview published in the German newspaper Bild am Sonntag on Sunday, Wolfgang Schaeuble said Athens has for years ignored the European Union (EU) rules that require refugees to file for asylum in the first member state of the union they arrive in.

Greece is the main entry – and mainly a passage – point for most of the refugees bound for wealthier nations in Europe. At least 800,000 asylum seekers arrived in Greece from Turkey via the Aegean Sea in 2015, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

Greece, already strained under an economic crisis of its own, has repeatedly called on richer EU members to do more to help with the crippling refugee influx.

“Greece is a country in economic crisis, and it faces a major humanitarian crisis within a crisis,” Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said in August, adding, “These dimensions exceed our country’s capabilities, they are European dimensions.”

Schaeuble said, “The Greeks should not only blame others for their problems, they should also consider how they can improve themselves.”

He said German courts had decided some time ago that refugees were not being treated humanely in Greece and, therefore, could not be sent back there.

A refugee girl cries after passing through a Greek police cordon near the village of Idomeni, Greece, December 4, 2015. (Photo by Reuters)

Also on Sunday, Joachim Herrmann, the interior minister for the southern German state of Bavaria, echoed Schaeuble’s remarks.

“What Greece is doing is a farce,” Herrmann said in an interview with German weekly Die Welt am Sonntag, warning that any country that does not meet its commitment to secure its external borders should leave the Schengen zone, which groups a number of countries without internal border controls.

Europe is facing its worst refugee crisis since World War II. Many blame major European powers for the unprecedented influx, saying their policies have led to a surge in terrorism and wars in the Middle East and North Africa, forcing more people out of their homes.

Officials in European countries are struggling to forge a united response to the record numbers of refugees.

According to the recent figures by the IOM, more than one million refugees have reached Europe’s shores so far this year. Nearly 3,700 people have either died or gone missing in their perilous journey to the continent.

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