European institutions in solidarity and support Greece defending the borders of Europe
EU strongly condemns Turkish propaganda and fake news exploiting migrants for political goals
The heads of the EU institutions at the Greek-Turkish border
Greek Prime Minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, thanked the President of the European Council, Charles Michel, who first had the idea of organising a visit to the Greek-Turkish border, President of the Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Parliament, David Sassoli, Prime Minister of Croatia, Andrej Plenković, for being in Kastanies, Evros, at the Greek-Turkish border on March 3rd.
Turkey, in full breach of the EU-Turkey statement, has systematically encouraged and assisted tens of thousands of refugees and migrants to illegally enter Greece. It has failed; and will continue to fail should it pursue this strategy. This is no longer a refugee problem. This is a blatant attempt by Turkey to use desperate people to promote its geopolitical agenda and to divert attention from the horrible situation in Syria. The tens of thousands of people who tried to enter Greece in March did not come from Idlib.
They have been living safely in Turkey for a long period of time; most of them speak Turkish fluently. Europe will not be blackmailed by Turkey over the refugee issue. Europe stands ready to support Turkey in dealing with this refugee problem and find a solution to the Syria conundrum, but not under these circumstances.
The presence of the entire European leadership at the outer borders of the Union sends a clear signal to everyone. Greece is doing Europe a great service. The border of Greece is the external border of the European Union. It will be protected. Greece is receiving tangible solidarity from the European Union. The EU Leaders have seen first-hand what is happening there, far from the treacherous fake news propaganda that aims to conceal the truth. There is only one truth: Turkey carries out its threat and attempts to send tens of thousands of desperate people illegally to Greece, asking for a quid pro quo.
Although Turkey has been characterised as a safe country, currently being the de facto home to many of those people, it still uses them as a geopolitical tool to serve its own purposes. In this way, Turkey blatantly violates the EU-Turkey statement, according to which Turkey must retain refugees in its territory, while preventing illegal pathways to Greece.
Unfortunately, Turkey has become an official migrant smuggler. The EU does not accept this situation which is demonstrated by all kinds of evidence: public statements by President Erdogan threatening to open the gates to allow the entry of migrants into Europe, videos showing Turkish buses transferring thousands of people for free accompanied by Turkish gendarmerie, testimonies of those who arrived in Evros, as well as messages from smugglers who talk about allegedly open borders.
This is no longer a refugee and migration problem. It is an asymmetrical threat against Greece’s Eastern borders, which are also European borders. The unlawful entry of thousands of people turns into a breach of Greece’s sovereign territory, with people of unknown origin and unknown purposes at the forefront, who don’t hesitate to blatantly use violence to enter Greek territory throwing teargas used by the Turkish army.
Prime Minister Mitsotakis holds talks with Chancellor Merkel
The Greek Premier briefed the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, during his recent visit to Berlin, on the latest developments in the organised, mass, attempted illegal entry into European territory of people from the Turkish territory, which has been on-going since late February. He stressed the direct and indirect involvement of the Turkish authorities in the creation and continuation of this massive attempt to infringe on European borders, as well as the deterioration of the situation by the organised fake news campaign.
On her part, the German Chancellor noted that the EU-Turkey Joint Declaration of March 2016 concerns not only the money Turkey receives from Europe, but also the respect for its obligations. She also stressed that the refugee – migration issue concerns the very existence of the European Union.
The two leaders agreed that the time between now and the European Summit should be used in a constructive way, starting from the de-escalation of the provocative actions by Turkey. The need for improvement in the European Union – Turkey Agreement was also discussed. As, for example, the joint patrols of the coastguard with Frontex, not only in Greek, but also in Turkish territorial waters, in order to control the flows, as well as the return of immigrants to Turkey, not only from the Aegean islands, but also from the mainland.
Greece and Austria join forces to protect EU external borders
The current border situation dominated the talks between Prime Mitsotakis and Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz in Vienna on March 10th. Greece and Europe want to cooperate with Turkey on migration, but not with blackmail, Prime Minister Mitsotakis said in a joint press conference with Chancellor Kurz after their meeting. He said that the tension at the Evros region needs to de-escalate. Arrivals of migrants from Turkey by sea have dropped to zero these past few days, he noted, exclaiming “I hope it continues, because it will be proof that is Turkey complying.”
The Greek Premier said that Turkey is obliged to contain migration flows under the EU-Turkey joint statement and thanked his Austrian counterpart for the humanitarian aid that his country has sent for migrants.
The Austrian Federal Chancellor, prior to Greek Prime Minister’s visit in Vienna, accused Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of “deliberately” organising the mass arrival of migrants and refugees at the Greek border, noting that this was “entirely targeted” and that there were no arrivals at the border with neighbouring Bulgaria.
He pointed out that tens of thousands of people had arrived at the Greek border in just a few days and, at the same time, there were no arrivals at the border with Bulgaria, showing that this mass advance was not a chance event but organised, while those arriving were not refugees from Idlib in Syria, but people that had been living in Turkey for years.
According to Chancellor Kurz, these people were being used by the Turkish President as weapons, as a means to put pressure on the European Union, something that should be strongly condemned and demanded the greatest possible support for Greece, as well as unity within the EU.
He underlined that Turkey must uphold the agreement with the EU on migration, through which it received billions of euros, and said that he was in favour of helping Turkey provided it offered organised and humane care for refugees.
If Turkey failed to uphold the agreement, he warned, there were multiple ways in which the EU could put pressure on Turkey, adding that the EU must not let itself be blackmailed. If the EU failed to put pressure on Turkey, he noted, “then we not only show weakness, but that will be the beginning of the end.”
Austria was willing to stand at Greece’s side and resist President Erdogan’s actions, Chancellor Kurz said, warning that allowing Turkey to prevail “will bring hundreds of thousands of migrants and that a Europe without internal borders will then be history.”
According to Chancellor Kurz, this was a test for the EU and whether it was able to protect its external borders, noting that the EU needed to stop the Turkish leader from exploiting migrants for his political goals. “We are in contact with the Greeks, who have our full support for the measures to protect the borders and we are discussing how we can contribute financially and also with police officers,” he said, adding that he was in constant contact with the Greek and Bulgarian Prime Ministers and the European Commission.
The Austrian Chancellor at a joint conference shortly after a working meeting with the visiting Greek Prime Minister said “Greece and Austria maintain excellent bilateral relations and have similar challenges and approaches in many areas. I would like to express my sincere thanks for the achievements of Greece, which are provided by the Government to strengthen the business location and to stimulate growth.” He thanked Premier Mitsotakis for his “efforts to make Greece attractive for investments,” and repeated that the Turkish President “abuses refugees and migrants who have lived in Turkey for years, exploits them and uses them as a weapon” against the EU. “This tactic is used to try to blackmail Europe and bring it to its knees. We are very grateful that Greece is consistently protecting the European external border,” said Chancellor Kurz. The European Union is united on the side of Greece.
“As the Republic of Austria, we want to make our contribution by supporting the efforts to protect the EU external borders with Austrian officials who work within the Frontex framework. A Cobra unit has also recently been deployed and we are helping with an armoured vehicle, drones and additional equipment,” emphasised the Austrian Head of Government. One million euros have so far been made available from the Foreign Disaster Fund to improve the humanitarian conditions for refugees in Greece. “Greece can count on Austria’s support. We thank you for the work that is being done in the interest of the European Union,” he added.
The Greek Prime Minister highlighted the good bilateral relationship with Austria, which should be further deepened in the future. He thanked the Chancellor for Austria’s support both in the economic field and in protecting the external borders.
On Greek-Austrian economic relations, Premier Mitsotakis said “we can do more,” and cited tourism. “Over 500,000 Austrians visit our country in both winter and summer,” he noted. He also referred to the historical ties between Greece and Austria. “The relations of our countries go back centuries,” he said, and in his final comment highlighted that the ambition of both leaders, who are also members of the European People’s Party, “is to face the future confidently, by seizing opportunities.”
Greek, Austrian Foreign Affairs Ministers slam Turkey’s asymmetrical threat to Europe
Referring to the fledging migration crisis as it unfolded at the Greek-Turkish border, Greek and Austrian Foreign Affairs Ministers Nikos Dendias and Alexander Schallenberg, slammed what they called “Turkey’s cynical and aggressive use of human misery as a political tool,” in joint statements after their meeting in Athens on March 3rd.
They also both highlighted the need for EU’s real expression of solidarity to Greece, while Minister Dendias said that the issue will be thoroughly discussed at the EU’s Foreign Affairs Council in Zagreb. At the meeting, the Ministers exchanged views on recent developments in Syria and the besieged province of Idlib.
The current migration crisis was also discussed at the EU’s Justice and Home Affairs meeting, where Home Affairs Ministers also talked about the on-going situation at the external borders of the EU. Minister Schallenberg also announced that Austria donated 1 million euros to the UN High Commission for Refugees representation in Greece and provided practical assistance and human resources.
Here follows Minister Dendias’ statement succeeding his meeting with Austria’s Federal Minister for European and International Affairs, Alexander Schallenberg:
“Our talks were dominated by the man-made crisis on the land and sea borders of Greece and Europe a crisis caused by decision of the Turkish leadership.
Right now, Greece is defending the borders of Europe. Obviously, not from the thousands of unfortunate people who have fallen victim to organised and absolutely condemnable manipulation, but from an unprecedented, cynical decision of the Turkish leadership to use these people as a human battering ram, in order to exert diplomatic pressure on Europe; pressure that includes the use of minors as a spearhead.
Despite the continuous assurances of my Turkish counterpart that Turkey is honouring its commitments deriving from the Joint Statement of 2016, Ankara is brazenly violating this agreement, not only proclaiming that the borders are open, but also helping thousands of unsuspecting people to travel to our land or sea borders.
Consequently, the mix of this aggressive instrumentalisation of these people’s misfortune has been staged by a specific director.
This is an asymmetrical threat to Europe. A threat that has been organised and strengthened, in word and deed, by the Turkish side, through tactics such as the fabrication and dissemination of fake news and the urging of migrants, by the Turkish authorities, to move towards the Greek and European borders.
At the upcoming extraordinary meeting of the EU Foreign Affairs Council, we will have the opportunity to discuss how we should address this threat collectively. I have already spoken by telephone to all my EU colleagues and a short while ago I completed my briefing of the Ambassadors of the EU Member States and those of the permanent members of the UN Security Council.
Prime Minister Mitsotakis, is in the Evros region right now, together with the Presidents of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, the European Council, Charles Michel the European Parliament, David Sassoli and the Prime Minister of Croatia, Andrej Plenkovic. This is already a strong indication of the solidarity and support from all the European institutions.
We expect the same tangible support and collective responsibility from all of the EU Member States, without exception. European solidarity must go beyond words.
My colleague – to whom I conveyed the Greek Government’s appreciation for Austria’s immediate expression of willingness to contribute to dealing with the crisis – and I also discussed the latest developments in the Eastern Mediterranean.
Here, too, Turkey’s conduct, as a rule, violates international legality and is often provocative, employing well known tactics, violating the Libya arms embargo and attempting to usurp our sovereign rights. A policy that jeopardises peace and stability on the southern borders of the EU, undermining our collective efforts and fuelling challenges such as irregular migration and terrorism.
We also talked about the European perspective of the countries of the Western Balkans, following the Thessaloniki Conference and ahead of the Zagreb European Council meeting. We agreed that the future of the Western Balkans is in the EU. Their accession is the strongest guarantee of prosperity and stability in south-east Europe, constituting a strategic investment for a Europe that is united, stable and strong. Of course, under the condition that the candidate States fully accept the acquis and fulfil their obligations.
Finally, we of course discussed our bilateral relations, which are excellent, and we agreed to make every effort to make them even stronger.”
Voluntary return of 5,000 migrants
Prime Minister Mitsotakis received European Commissioner for Home Affairs, Ylva Johansson, at the Maximos Mansion, emphasising that Greece and Europe face an asymmetric threat at sea and land borders. Turkey, he said, exploits oppressed people as geopolitical pawns, a development that no longer constitutes a migration problem only, but a matter of national security.
Commissioner Johansson and Migration and Asylum Minister Notis Mitarachi, in joint statements after their meeting in Athens on March 12th, announced the creation of a temporary mechanism for the voluntary return of 5,000 migrants from the Greek islands to their countries of origin, which will be funded by the European Commission.
The mechanism will be temporary, lasting only one month, and will offer the opportunity – exclusively for the migrants staying in the reception centres on the islands and who have arrived in Greece before January 1st 2020 – to apply to voluntarily return to their country and also receive an allowance of 2,000 euros.
The returns will be organised in cooperation with the International Organisation for Migration and Frontex.
Commissioner Johansson said that this mechanism “is an opportunity for the decongestion of the Greek islands” while Minister Mitarachi noted that the voluntary returns will be added to the transfer of 10,000 asylum seekers to the Greek mainland, as was announced for the first quarter of 2020.
Additionally, they announced that there will be special focus on the relocation of unaccompanied migrant and refugee children to other European Union Member States. Already seven countries are expected to receive at least 1,600 unaccompanied children.
“It is very urgent to find a solution because childhood and puberty can’t be done over,” said Ms Johansson, adding that the Commission and the Greek Government will jointly organise a conference on the unaccompanied children in May. She reiterated the European Commission’s solidarity with Greece, a solidarity that is in line with the common European values and constitutes a significant part of the EU’s identity.
“We discussed the importance for all international and European treaties to be followed and to give access to asylum to those people who need it before they are returned,” she said.
“We asked and ask for Europe’s support for the management of the crisis and its repercussions,” said Minister Mitarachi referring to “the immediate support and to the new EU directive for migration and asylum, which must follow the principle of a proportional allocation of responsibility for refugee flows”.
(Photos: D.Papamitsos/Office to the PM & T.Bolari, G.Kontarinis/Eurokinissi.)