Greek Migration Minister Says Turkey Using Refugees to Squeeze EU

Αssociated Press

Alternate Migration and Asylum Minister Giorgos Koumoutsakos. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris, FILE)

ATHENS- If Turkey wants more funding from the European Union as part of a suspended refugee and migrant swap deal, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will have to stop threatening to flood Greek islands with more, Greece’s Alternate Migration Minister George Koumoutsakos said.

That’s already happening, however, with Greek islands overflowing with an additional 44,000 arrivals since the New Democracy Conservatives won July 7 snap elections, ousting the former Radical Left SYRIZA accused of letting the crisis fester and keeping refugees and migrants in detention centers and camps human rights groups said were inhumane.

There are some 96,000 refugees and migrants in Greece, including 36,400 on islands even as the new government is moving thousands to the mainland and announced a plan to tighten asylum, speed deportations and close camps in favor of detention centers.

In an interview with the news agency Agence France-Presse AFP while on a visit to Washington, Koumoutsakos showed worry over threats by Erdogan to “open the gates” and allow refugees and migrants to flee to Europe if he does not receive more financial support.

When Turkey “keeps repeating that we’re going to open the floodgates, what they (migrants) do is they move closer to the floodgates waiting for them to open,” he was quoted as saying, noting that Greece has seen a 240 percent increase in arrivals since May.

He said that Greece wants the EU to consider Turkey’s request for further economic assistance beyond the 6 billion euros the bloc pledged in 2016 to stop migrants, only half of which has been delivered and with visa-free travel for Turkish citizens still in limbo and the bloc keeping a hold on Turkey’s hopes of joining.

Koumoutsakos has accused Turkey of exploiting the migration crisis to pursue its “geostrategic goals,” while urging EU governments to do more to share the burden of hosting refugees although Greece hasn’t reportedly reached out to the European Commission in charge of migrants - New Democracy’s Margaritis Schinas.

“We have a very difficult partner on the other side of the Aegean,” Koumoutsakos said in reference to Turkey, on the second day of the Inaugural Southeast Europe & East Med conference in Washington, adding that the EU had been “too slow” and often “unable” to make the necessary decisions to contain the problem.

Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis earlier said that the EU was timid and afraid to confront Erdogan, who has also sent energy drillships into Cypriot waters and warned he would send millions more refugees and migrants to the bloc, through Greek islands.

While the new European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has made the issue a priority area, Koumoutsakos said a new comprehensive pact on migration will emerge only during the German EU Presidency in the second half of 2020.

But he did call for greater burden-sharing in the EU. “Greece will do its share, but it cannot do it alone,” he said.