ATHENS – Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, facing a re-election battle, said his major rival, SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras would stop construction on an extension of a wall on Turkey’s border aimed at keeping out refugees and migrants.
With the polls coming May 21 and a train tragedy that killed 57 fading from the headlines, the two are going at each other hammer and nail in a bid to rule Greece, firing away now on all cylinders.
Mitsotakis’ New Democracy government, trying to keep out asylum seekers who’ve been coming for almost seven years, wants to double the length of the 5-meter high (16.4-foot) fence to cover almost all the 192-kilometer (120-mile) border.
The wall currently spans 37.5 kilometers (25 miles), and the government plans to extend it by 35 kilometers and more than 100 kilometers of wall will be added to that by 2026, government officials said.
“I consider that the issue of the fence on Evros is a given not only for the people living there, but it is a given for the vast majority of our fellow citizens that a sovereign country must have ways to effectively protect its borders,” Mitsotakis said on Thessaloniki radio.
“After the attempted migration invasion in March 2020, it became absolutely obvious to me that we need a strong deterrent that will support our overall policy for guarding the borders,” he said.
“The fence is not the only tool we have at our disposal, but we have hired many border guards, we have strengthened the technological means to monitor the entire border, and we have strengthened the Coast Guard,” he added.
The refugees and migrants are coming from Turkey where they went fleeing war, strife and economic hardship after fleeing their homelands, primarily Syria and Afghanistan but also sub-Saharan African and as far as Pakistan and Bangladesh.
“In essence, what impresses me is why something that should be self-evident becomes a field of political confrontation and reaches the point where the main opposition … officially requests that this project not be financed by European funds,” he added about SYRIZA’s resistance.
“I find it unimaginable that there is a Greek MEP asking that this fence be actually paid for by the Greek taxpayers,” he said, referring to SYRIZA’s Member of the European Parliament Dimitris Papadimoulis.
“I don’t know what Mr. Tsipras will do, because I hear many different voices. But I’m absolutely sure that if he doesn’t destroy the part of the fence that has been built, he won’t expand the fence and he won’t implement the project that we have launched,” he said.
Tsipras fired back that, “We will build a fence against injustice. This is our commitment,” and predicted a first-round knockout that seems unlikely after his former ruling government changed elections laws to take away a 50-seat bonus in the Parliament for the winner of an election.
With as many as seven parties on a path to enter Parliament, that means the first-place finisher would need a coalition partner or go to a second election to seek an outright victory when there will be a sliding scale of 20-50 seats for the winner.
Tsipras said that, “SYRIZA being the first party in the May 21 elections means that we will have a government of progressive cooperation the very next day of the elections,” reported the state-run Athens-Macedonia News Agency AMNA.
He underlined that “A government of progressive cooperation with SYRIZA as its core will bring justice to society … increasing wages, reducing prices, regulating debts and a strong, fair, efficient state.”
Nikos Androulakis, leader of the third place in polls PASOK-KINAL Movement For Change center-left jumped on Mitsotakis too, accusing him of obscuring facts about the fence, the news agency said.
Speaking at the Star Forum 2023 conference, Androulakis said that Mitsotakis “is only telling half the truth,” because “construction of the fence was actually started by PASOK,” before the party fell apart and merged with others.
Androulakis noted that Mitsotakis’ fellow European People’s Party (EPP) politicians “congratulate him on the fence, but have vetoed to the revision of the Dublin Regulation,” which would taken away the burden of asylum being allowed only in the first country in which refugees land, most always Greece.
In his four years as Greece’s premier, Mitsotakis never mentioned this to his EPP team or to the European Council, Androulakis pointed out, as the “European Right would never have allowed this discussion,” although Androulakis said his party supports the wall to keep out asylum seekers.