THESSALONIKI – While he said he now doesn't think there will be another wave of Afghan refugees fleeing the murderous rule of the Taliban, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis pledged to stop human traffickers that Turkey lets send refugees and migrants to Greece.
Speaking at an alleged news conference from the Thessaloniki International Fair (TIF) where he wouldn't take questions from reporters, only screened questions written in advance, he said that, “Our aim is to stop any wave long before it reaches our borders. In that, our interests and Turkey’s are aligned.”
In an earlier phone conversation with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the leaders agreed to work together to keep Afghans from coming to either of their countries but Turkey has allowed that since the crisis began in 2015.
Mitsotakis' New Democracy government has taken a hard line against refugees and migrants, extending a border wall on the Turkish border along the treacherous Evros River and stepping up patrols in the Aegean.
Human traffickers from Turkey have been allowed to send hundreds of thousands of refuges and migrants for six years, less after an essentially-suspended 2016 swap deal with the European Union.
The numbers fell more after the COVID-19 pandemic broke out early in 2020, just after Erdogan sent 10,000 migrants to the land border and urged them to cross before they were repelled by Greek riot police and army units.
Mitsotakis didn't say if Greece would ask the EU to sanction Turkey for letting the gangs that he wants broken up to keep working nor mentioned his government prosecuting activists for saving refugees and migrants in the Aegean trying to reach five Greek islands near Turkey's coast.
Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) who have been targeted denied taking part in smuggling, only in saving people, saying they were doing the job of Greece's Coast Guard who human rights groups accused of pushing them back.
Mitsotakis said Greece has adopted an active border protection strategy and migrant flows have “decreased tremendously” in 2021 compared with last year, while becoming more efficient in salvaging migrants adrift at sea.
Greece has denied allegations by Turkey and non-governmental organizations that it is pushing migrants back, putting lives in danger, especially of those still crossing by sea from the Turkish coast.
(Material from the Associated Press was used in this report)