MYTILENE – Visiting the mooring facilities of the Hellenic Coast Guard on the island of Lesbos on New Year's Eve, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis expressed his gratitude to the men and women of the coast guard, the Hellenic Navy and the Hellenic Police for their efforts to guard the country's sea borders.
Arriving on the island on Thursday, the prime minister boarded coast guard vessels docked in Mytilene's port with Coast Guard chief Vice Admiral Theodoros Kliaris, contacted crews on the radio and visited one of the police force's mobile sea border surveillance stations, emphasising the symbolic nature of his visit.
"I spoke with the Coast Guard chief, Mr. Kliaris, and told him that I want to be here in Mytilene in person before the New Year arrives to say a big thank you. You should know that you not only have our appreciation but also our active support," he said.
He then contacted a coast guard vessel at sea on the radio and exchanged New Year wishes with the crew, who wished him "calm waters and a following wind" in his efforts to guide the country.
Mitsotakis then boarded the Hellenic Navy gunboat "Kasos" accompanied by the Hellenic National Defence General Staff chief General Konstantinos Floros and highlighted the close cooperation between the coast guard and the Navy in guarding the sea border.
"In 2020 we guarded our borders in Evros, we guarded our borders at sea…and this is reflected in the numbers, with the arrivals of illegal migrants reduced more than 80 pct in 2020 and our islands essentially decongested after the great problem they faced a year ago," he said, thanking the Navy and Greece's armed forces for their efforts, not just for migration but also against the challenges posed by neighbouring Turkey.
"Our Armed Forces showed that they are always ready to defend our sovereignty and sovereign rights. They have made all of us proud throughout the year," Mitsotakis said, adding that he could not think of a more symbolic move that to be with them on this day, as Greece prepared to usher in the New Year, near the border in Mytilene, with all the forces that defended Greece in order to thank them and reiterate the government's active support.
Visiting the mobile police station, meanwhile, he praised the force's contribution and stressed that the present government "has a different dogma on guarding the borders, on land and at sea."
Visit to temporary facility for asylum-seekers at Kara Tepe
Mitsotakis also visited the temporary reception facility for refugees and migrants which was set up at Kara Tepe near Mytilene, after the Moria hotspot burnt down.
He was shown around by Migration and Asylum Minister Notis Mitarachi and the Secretary General for the Reception of Asylum Seekers Manos Logothetis, who briefed him on the works currently underway, especially those to protect against flooding. He also spoke with local officials.
"We had said that Moria would shut down, though we did not expect that it would shut down in the way that it did," Mitsotakis noted, while adding that the new facility was "much better than Moria" and certainly had far fewer asylum-seekers than were on the island a year ago.
Referring to the site chosen for the construction of a permanent reception centre in 2021, the prime minister expressed satisfaction that a site approved by most if not all local actors had been found and announced that tenders would now begin for a permanent facility "that will be much better than this one and provide the permanent solution we promised".
The number of people resident in reception centres on the island has been reduced by almost 62 pct in 2020, up until the end of November, as a result of efforts to decongest the Eastern Aegean islands of asylum-seekers. This effort has also reduced the number of unaccompanied minors living in the camps from over 1,200 in November 2019 to none at present. All minors have been relocated to either the mainland or to other European countries, while 20 recent arrivals have been temporarily housed in a facility set up in a hotel in eastern Lesvos.
PM visits Mytilene General Hospital and National Guard Higher Command on Lesvos
The prime minister promised both the resources and personnel to do an effective job and highlighted the Comprehensive National Surveillance System that will provide Greece with a complete picture of what is happening on its maritime borders at all times and on all days, enabling a rapid response.
Mitsotakis heard carols for the New Year performed by the military band of the 98th National Guard Higher Command and praised the role of the armed forces in the distribution of the vaccine against coronavirus, as well as the effort to carry out the maximum possible number of rapid tests via the online platform testing.gov.gr.
"The year 2020 was difficult but from the difficulties we emerged stronger, more united and, I believe, more focused on the goal of protecting the Armed Forces in a substantive and intelligent way, so that no one can ever doubt their deterrent capability," the prime minister said.
He again encouraged people to use the testing platform and said the contribution of the armed forces to this effort proved, once again, "that its imprint extends beyond the core of its mission and is a pillar of stability for Greek society as a whole."
The prime minister's next stop was Mytilene's General Hospital, which has recently been reinforced with 57 new members of staff, including doctors, nurses and support personnel.
"Let 2021 be better, with the vaccination starting so that we gradually put this ordeal behind us. But  was an opportunity to also look at the chronic failings of the system, because the health system will be here after the pandemic and must be stronger," Mitsotakis said. He also visited the vaccination centre and noted that all those currently hesitating must be convinced to get vaccinated.
Addressing the healthcare staff, he said their example would be very important in this effort and will help convince those that still have doubts. "At this moment, society is divided into three parts: those that have said they will be vaccinated, those that can be convinced but are worried about side-effects and a very small percentage that are absolute deniers, who I don't think we can ever convince," he said.
He pointed out that of millions of vaccines administered worldwide, there had only been 10 allergic reactions so far and that these were relatively mild and controllable, causing no further problems. The government will launch a general information campaign so that people know what likely side-effects there might be, he added, while noting that these were "negligible" and no different from an ordinary flu vaccine and far outweighed by the benefits the vaccine will bring.