KASTANIES, Greece - Greece will continue protecting its borders, and Turkey's efforts to assist tens of thousands of refugees and migrants enter Greece illegally have failed and will continue to do so, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said on Tuesday, calling on the EU to take decisive action to deal with this challenge.
Speaking at a joint press conference with high-level EU officials visiting the Greek border with Turkey at Evros prefecture to see the problem for themselves, Mitsotakis said that "this is no longer a refugee and migrant issue alone, it is an asymmetrical threat on Greece's eastern borders, which also comprise Europe's borders." He added "it is also a blatant attempt by Turkey to change the agenda and turn attention elsewhere from the terrible situation in Syria."
Mitsotakis had been joined on a visit by helicopter to the area by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, European Council President Charles Michel, President of the European Parliament David Sassoli, and Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic whose country holds the rotating presidency of the Council of the EU. They saw the situation along the Evros River borders, and paid a visit to the 1st military border post.
The Greek premier charged Turkey with violating the EU-Turkey joint statement, and charged that the tens of thousands who tried to enter Greece illegally do not originate in Syria, but have been living in Turkey for a long time and speak perfect Turkish. "Turkey has become an official migrant trafficker," he charged, and neither Greece nor the EU will allow this situation.
"The illegal invasion of thousands people is transforming into an attack of our national territory, putting out front people of unknown origins and motives, who do not hesitate to obviously use violence to enter Greek territory and fire teargas used by the the Turkish army," Mitsotakis said. "It's my obligation to safeguard the integrity and sovereignty of my country and I will do so," he said, "while it is Europe's obligation to help Greece, and that is what it will do."
Europe will not be blackmailed by Turkey over the refugee issue. We stand ready to support Turkey in dealing with its refugee problem and find a solution to the Syria conundrum. But not under these circumstances. pic.twitter.com/8mIQ8DBM1o— Prime Minister GR (@PrimeministerGR) March 3, 2020
The premier said Europe will not succumb to Turkey's blackmail. Greece is prepared to help the neighboring country deal with the migrant issue and help find solutions for Syria, not however under these circumstances, he said. "Greece's borders are also the external borders of the EU, and we will protect them," he noted, adding however as well that "Europe has not fully fulfilled its obligations to cover the needs of the refugee issue." The crisis of the last few days "will help all of us overcome this crisis better."
He further said that "to the present, Europe failed to find a joint solution to this complex problem. Some got comfortable, shut their eyes and let countries at the external borders manage this continuous crisis by themselves. The presence of the European institutions (here) is the best proof that this is changing."
My duty is to protect the sovereignty of my own country. At the same time, Greece is also doing Europe a great service. The borders of Greece are the external borders of the European Union. We will protect them. ???? pic.twitter.com/jdh3hOOmhf— Prime Minister GR (@PrimeministerGR) March 3, 2020
Speaking of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his continuing threats of opening the borders with Greece to let migrants through, the Greek premier asserted that "Mr. Erdogan's threats did not pass - they crashed on the united front of the Greek people, their spirit and on the country's operational abilities, as well as on European solidarity, which I am certain will be expressed even more decisively in the next few days."
"The message is clear to each and every one: Do not try to enter Greece illegally, you will not succeed, and you will be solely responsible for your choices. Greece has shown its sensitivity, hosting over 100,000 people, but an international problem cannot be shouldered by one country alone. In addition, when a just solution is slow to come, humanitarianism turns into anger, because solidarity cannot be provided in words alone, it must be addressed to the Greek people, whose security, property and social peace are under threat," Mitsotakis said.
Speaking of unsuccessful attempts to revise the asylum policies at EU level, he said that it's necessary for countries to reach a compromise, and pointed out that the time that elapsed from the last migration crisis in 2014-2015 was not used wisely by the EU, but it must do what it can now to find a solution.
This is no longer a refugee problem. It is a blatant attempt by Turkey to use desperate people to promote its geopolitical agenda. The people who have tried to enter Greece in the past days did not come from Idlib. They have been living safely in Turkey for a long period of time. pic.twitter.com/VUBHQIQTs7— Prime Minister GR (@PrimeministerGR) March 3, 2020
"Now that the threat of the dispatch of hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants in Europe was unsuccessful, it's time to try a new approach," the premier said. "It's the least we owe these people who many times feel they have nothing to lose and are being used as instruments, as political pawns to promote other plans," he added.
The EU officials who visited Greece's borders confirmed the necessity of respecting international law and human rights, and their confidence in the steps the Greek government took to manage the crisis at the Greek-Turkish borders. They also confirmed their support and solidarity with Greece, during their statements at the Cultural Center of Kastanies in Evros prefecture.