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Politics

In Talk, Mitsotakis, Erdogan Agree: Keep Out Afghan Refugees

ΑΤΗΕΝS — After a half hour phone talk, a rare occasion in which they have communicated, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said both countries must block Afghan refugees fleeing the Taliban.

Anticipating a tidal wave of people running from the murderous terrorist group that now controls Afghanistan after American and NATO forces left, leaving the population to fend for itself after the Taliban seized the country in a week.

Prior to the call, government sources not named told Kathimerini that “Athens considers that contact with Turkey is necessary, as the wider region, and especially the two countries, may be affected by new refugee flows.”

The same sources added that, “in any case, Greece will continue to show the same efficiency in guarding both land and sea borders,” including extending a wall on the land border with Turkey near the Evros River.

Patrols will also be stepped up in the Aegean looking for rubber dinghies and rickety craft that Turkey lets human traffickers use to keep sending refugees and migrants to five Greek islands near Turkey's coast.

That's in violation of an essentially-suspended 2016 swap deal with the European Union which closed its borders to them, dumping the problem largely on Greece, the bloc not making Turkey live up to its agreement to take back those denied asylum nor issuing any sanctions for allowing the flow to keep up.

Mitsotakis and Erdogan agreed that the countries bordering Afghanistan should be aided – that's primarily Iran and the Taliban-friendly Pakistan – in a bid to keep Afghans from fleeing.

Turkey is holding some 4.4 million refugees and migrants and Greece has some 100,000, most from Syria and Afghanistan, in detention centers and camps on the islands and mainland.

Turkey is supposed to contain them as part of the swap deal in which the EU provided 3 billion euros ($3.51 billion) and Erdogan has squeezed the bloc to cough up another 3 billion euros that was pledged, warning he otherwise would open the gates for more.

The EU and Greece have been trying to appease Erdogan so he wouldn't let traffickers send more refugees and migrants and an influx of more from Afghanistan could give him a bargaining chip to gain more benefits.

Citizens’ Protection Minister Michalis Chrysochoidis and Defense Minister Nikos Panagiotopoulos said that Greek borders “will remain secure and impenetrable,” as they visited the northeastern region of Evros.

“The Afghan crisis is creating a new reality in geopolitics and at the same time it is creating the possibility of migration flows,” Chrysochoidis said, the paper reported.

“It is well known that we, as a European country, participate in the institutions of the European Union and within this framework a number of decisions are taken. However, as a country, we cannot wait idly for the possible consequences,” he added, without explaining what that mean.

UP AGAINST THE WALL

Panagiotopoulos said that Greece will “shield itself against any possible or existing security threat,” but it wasn't said what the response would be if Erdogan lets loose a flotilla of refugees and migrants to Greek islands or, as he did in February, 2020, send them to the Evros River border, urging them to cross.

Erdogan said Afghanistan and Iran – a key route for Afghans into Turkey – should be supported or a new migration wave was “inevitable,” a statement from his office said, reported the news agency Reuters.

The possibility of another refugee and migrant crisis comes as there's been a lull in Turkish provocations against Greece, a summer truce called so as not to affect tourism in both countries during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Before that, Turkey was pressing to hunt for energy around Greek islands, including Kastellorizo and Crete, backing off for a while after the EU said it might bring sanctions but he said he would ignore those and send energy research vessels and warships back into the Aegean and East Mediterranean at any rate.

Greece is frantically trying to keep out refugees and migrants, more than six years after they began arriving – and were welcomed and rescued at sea – but residents weary of them now.

The New Democracy government was accused of pushing them back into the sea in forceful attempts to keep them out, which the government has repeatedly denied despite constant accusations from human rights groups and Turkey, which remains unsanctioned for sending them.

The government now is targeting activist groups for helping save refugees at sea, claiming that encourages them to keep coming and charging the rescuers with helping human smugglers.

Greece also has fenced off migrants camps and is seeking bids from companies to build two closed facilities on Samos and Lesbos, which holds the most and where they've been housed in a tent city after the notorious former Moria camp was burned in a protest against COVID-19 health measures.

Greek law enforcement, the Coast Guard and military are drafting plans to police and shield the Evros land border and the eastern Aegean, said Kathimerini, discussed at a Government Council for Foreign Affairs and Defense (KYSEA.)

The defense plans would be similar to those used in 2020 that successfully held back migrants who tossed Molotov Cocktails over a border fence, Greek forces firing tear gas in return.

Police sources told Kathimerini that the construction of the 27-kilometer-long (16.77 mile) fence at Evros has already been completed, as well as the installation and operation of the automated border surveillance system.

The system includes 11 new cameras and radar, and can see up to 15 kilometers (9.32 miles) inside Turkish territory and transfer images to the Hellenic Police (ELAS) operational centers along the border.

Police said patrols and surveillance will be stepped up and are preparing an arsenal to defend the borders, including tear gas and stun grenades that could be used against migrants fleeing the ferocity of the Taliban, who would be repelled.

A police source not named said that drones have already been activated to monitor the border and that the military will send units there in a show of force to build up the defense shield.

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