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Politics

Mitsotakis to EU: Don’t Let Countries Use Migrants as Leverage

ATHENS, — Greece’s prime minister says Europe should be “very, very strict” when dealing with countries that he said are seeking to use migrants and refugees as a means of pressuring the European Union.

Using migrants and refugees as geopolitical 'pawns' to put pressure on the European Union was "inconceivable", Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said on Friday at a meeting with FRONTEX Executive Director Fabrice Leggeri, at the Maximos Mansion.

The meeting was attended by Migration and Asylum Minister Notis Mitarachi, the chief of Hellenic National Defence General Staff General Konstantinos Floros, the chief of the Hellenic Police, Lieutenant General Michael Karamalakis and other officials.

Mitsotakis called on neighboring Turkey to do more to prevent people from attempting to cross the Greek border illegally from their shores.

"On this occasion, I would like to once again address our neighbour, Turkey, and encourage it to remain committed to what the provisions of the EU-Turkey Statement and to work more actively to prevent undocumented arrivals and further reduce migration flows in the Aegean," the prime minister said.

"It is an opportunity to thank you personally for the excellent cooperation we have had all these years in terms of protecting our borders, which is the right of our country and an obligation fully compatible with international law. We know that we are a continent that provides international protection where necessary and we want to offer legal routes for migration but, at the same time, we must protect our borders against traffickers," Mitsotakis said.

"In the last two years, with the active support of Frontex, we have managed to reduce flows by almost 80 pct in 2020 and by an additional 72 pct from the beginning of the year until today. I would like to warmly congratulate the Greek Armed Forces, the Hellenic Police, and especially the Greek Coast Guard and my colleagues in the government for the results they have achieved. I would also like to congratulate the Coast Guard and FRONTEX for the protection they provide against the risk of losing human lives at sea. The protection of our borders not only prevents undocumented arrivals, but also protects human lives," he underlined.

Greece has been one of the most popular routes into the EU for people fleeing war and poverty in the Mideast, Africa and Asia, with most making their way from the Turkish coast to nearby Greek islands in overcrowded smugglers' boats.

In March 2020, thousands of migrants and refugees who had been in Turkey rushed to the Greek border after Turkey announced it was opening its own borders to the EU. Chaotic scenes followed on the Greek border, and Athens temporarily suspended asylum applications.

Similar scenes played out this week in Spain’s North African enclave of Ceuta, when more than 8,000 people swam or jumped over border fences after Morocco relaxed border controls.

Greece has been accused by Turkey and refugee groups of carrying out pushbacks — summary deportations of arriving migrants without giving them the chance to apply for asylum — an accusation it strongly denies.

Mitsotakis also urged Turkey to accept nearly 1,500 people now on Greek islands whose asylum applications have been rejected, saying that would “be a very important first step to enhance our cooperation.”

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