ATHENS – Straddling the fence, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis denounced Turkey for what he said was unlawful claims to the seas around Greek islands and off Cyprus, but said it's help was needed to slow any more flows of refugees and migrants to the European Union – through Greece.
Greece is anxious that more hordes of Afghans fleeing the murderous reign of the Taliban which seized the country after American and NATO forces scampered out after 20 years will be coming.
Mitsotakis had spoken on the phone with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whose country is holding some 4.4 million refugees and migrants who went there fleeing war, strife and economic hardships in their homelands, especially Afghanistan and Syria.
But the Turkish leader has allowed human traffickers to keep sending more, primarily to five Greek islands near Turkey's coast, under an essentially-suspended 2016 swap deal with the EU.
He also has continued to threaten he will unleash more unless the EU delivers another 3-billion euros ($3.52 billion) after a first installment of 3 billion euros and he wants visa-free travel for Turks in the block and a faster-track for Turkey to become a member while critics said human rights are being trampled there.
Mitsotakis said Turkey was an important partner in tackling any new migration challenge to Europe and needed support that the EU hasn't fully delivered, signaling a dilemma about what to do.
More than a million refugees and migrants fleeing conflict in Syria and elsewhere crossed into Europe via Greece and Turkey in 2015 and Greece's former ruling Radical Left SYRIZA waved them in.
Mitsotakis' New Democracy Conservative government has taken a tougher stance in trying to keep them out, including extending a border wall along the Evros River on the northern border with Turkey and adding Aegan patrols.
He said the doors won't be opened again as they were in 2015, when so many came through Greece and got into other EU countries that the borders were shut to them, dumping the problem largely on Greece during an economic crisis.
“That is off the cards and we will do everything that we can to prevent that from happening,” he told Reuters in an interview.
But he said uncertainty about what will happen with the Taliban's blitzkrieg takeover of Afghanistan is fueling worries about another wave of people fleeing, and he said there's no coherent EU policy to deal with them although the current and previous migration affairs chiefs for the bloc are from New Democracy.
Mitsotakis said a cohesive policy in the EU in how to handle a mass influx was still lacking. “We are clearly not there yet,” he told the news agency.
“We need common rules regarding asylum. It doesn’t make sense for people to shop, do asylum shopping, move from one country to another, they should know that will be they will be treated fairly, but with the same with the same standards, and of course, we need to do more on returns at the European level.”
That was in reference as well to Turkey essentially reneging on parts of the EU deal to take back those denied asylum in Greece, which is building new closed detention camps on islands to hold them.
“We need to communicate very clearly, with the countries of origin that they need to be able to take people back,” although the refugees and migrants don't want to return out of fear for their lives or not being able to make a living.
OH YEAH? YEAH!
Migrant arrivals to Greece, either by land or by sea, have overall slowed to a trickle since 2016, when the EU agreed a deal with Turkey to stem the flows in exchange for financial support, the news agency noted.
“I’ve had a very open discussion with President Erdogan, and I think we agreed that it is important to keep potential refugees and migrants as close to their home country as possible,” said Mitsotakis, saying it “made sense” for the EU supporting Turkey to help address the issue.
How to resolve that is the question, an answer to which has evaded him and previous Greek leaders who couldn't handle the volatile and provocative Erdogan, who rules his country with an iron hand and has treated even the EU's top leaders with disdain, scaring them off from imposing sanctions.
Erdogan has also said he will at some point send back an energy research ship and warships off Greek islands in waters Turkey claims in a hunt for oil and gas as is happening in Cypriot water in defiance of soft EU sanctions exempting him.
Greece and Turkey resumed exploratory talks in Athens earlier this year to try to settle differences but they were non-binding chit chats that resolved nothing despite 62 sessions that have no nowhere.
“We’ve had this difference for 40 years. Let’s try to … pick up from where we started through the exploratory talks and if we cannot agree, let’s agree on a framework that will take the difference to the International Court at The Hague, and we will respect the decision of the court,” Mitsotakis said.
“There is only one template, and that is international law, he said, but Turkey doesn't recognize the United Nations Law of the Sea nor the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne that set borders between the countries, unless invoking in its favor.
That saw Mitsotakis, talking to eight EU partners at a meeting in Athens to declare that Turkey must abandon its “illegal actions” against Cyprus and Greece, although Erdogan has show no sign he will do that.
“Our fundamental priority is security and stability under international law and the Convention on the Law of the Sea. This also applies to Turkey, which must abandon illegal actions against Cyprus and Greece,” he told the opening of a summit of the EU’s Mediterranean countries, said Kathimerini.
Turkey’s actions were “yet another factor which underscores the need for Europe’s strategic autonomy, and also highlights it as a necessary goal,” he said, adding that Greece is trying to do that, although hasn't brought consensus.
The EU is divided over how to handle Turkey because of economic and national interests from some member states, particularly Germany – home to 2.74 million people of Turkish heritage- and a major arms supplier to Turkey.
The leaders at the EUMed9 Summit, as expected, put out a boilerplate statement calling for a common front but only Spain, France, Italy, Malta, Greece, Slovenia, Croatia and Cyprus, and Portugal were represented, but 18 other countries not there.
Despite that minority, Mitsotakis said that, “Our declaration is also clear regarding hybrid threats, in this case the instrumentalization of the migration issue, which acquires a special dimension due to recent developments in Afghanistan,” the EU and Greece fearing more refugees fleeing the Taliban will come.
Turkey quickly ripped the the statement of unity. “We call on the European Union signatory countries to abandon their unilateral stance. They are following Greece and Cyprus blindly under the pretext of solidarity,” the Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesperson Tanju Bilgic said in a written statement.