Athens.- (GreekNewsOnline, Reuters, ANA)
“Greece is doing what every sovereign state has the right to do, to protect its border from any illegal crossings,” Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis told the CNN network on Friday night.
“I’m afraid this is a constant and very systematic provocation on Turkey’s behalf which has nothing to do with the plight of these people. They are being used by Turkey.”
“Right now, let’s be honest, the agreement is dead,” Kyriakos Mitsotakis told CNN.
“And it’s dead because Turkey has decided to completely violate the agreement because of what happened in Syria,” he added.
“Europe is not going to be blackmailed by Turkey. We are not the ones escalating this conflict, but we have every right to protect our sovereign borders. And we will continue to do so,” Mitsotakis underlined.
Teargas and smoke bombs clouded a Greek-Turkish land border on Saturday in a fresh flare-up in tensions over migrants seeking access to European Union territory.
A Reuters correspondent in the area said the projectiles were coming from Turkish territory and being fired towards Greek police near the crossing at Kastanies. Some tear gas was also being fired by Greek police.
Meanwhile hundreds of people could be seen on the Turkish side of the high perimeter fence, with some pushing at it.
Thousands of migrants have been trying to get into Greece, an EU member state, since Turkey said on Feb. 28 it would no longer try to keep them on its territory as agreed in 2016 with the EU in return for billions of euros in aid.
Turkey argued it could no longer contain the hundreds of thousands of migrants it hosts, or the likelihood of more refugees on the way from intensified fighting in northwestern Syria, but Greece has sought to keep out the fresh influx.
Greek soldiers and riot police have been manning the borderland, as thousands of migrants have made a rush for the frontier in recent days. Their Turkish counterparts have been stationed on the other side.
Greek officials say authorities have thwarted thousands of attempts by migrants to cross in the past eight days. Over a 24-hour period by Saturday morning, there were more than 1,200 attempts to cross and 27 arrests, a government source said. Most of the migrants were from Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Heavy machinery was moved to the border crossing area on the Greek side on Saturday morning and a bulldozer was seen digging embankments close to Kastanies.
Slideshow (4 Images)
Turkey on Friday accused the European Union of using migrants as political tools and allowing international law to be “trampled”, after EU foreign ministers said they would work to stop illegal migration into the bloc.
The EU on Friday pleaded with migrants on the Turkish border to stop trying to cross into Greece but dangled the prospect of more aid for Ankara as the standoff entered a second week.
Αllowances to refugees who have been granted asylum will be suspended in March, Migration and Asylum Minister Notis Mitarachi said in an interview on Saturday with SKAI TV.
“With an amendment passed yesterday, our country ceases within 30 days to provide hospitality and allowances for asylum seekers. They will have to work for a living. This makes our country a less attractive destination for migratory flows,” he stated.
On the new closed centres for those who have entered the country illegally after March 1, Mitarachi said that “we want to create two closed centres; one in Serres and one in Attica that will accommodate 1,000 people and will be temporary.”
Regarding the EU-Turkey Joint Declaration, the minister pointed out that “Turkey is the one that did not fulfill its obligation to prevent flows from the islands. Currently, the Joint Declaration does not apply in practice. However, if Europe is to discuss a new Agreement with Turkey, two conditions are necessary. Firstly, the Aegean islands should not be again congested. Secondly, returns to Turkey should be much faster and simpler.”
Turkey must turn theory into practice, government spokesman Stelios Petsas said on Saturday in an interview with Open TV commenting on Turkey’s decision not to allow migrants to cross the Aegean sea.
“Greece has Europe on its side. Greece must protect its borders. We are not blackmailed from Turkey or anyone else. Therefore it is in Turkey’s insterest to change its own stance,” Petsas said.
Petsas also accused the Turkish president and his ministers of spreading fake news.
Stressing the need for revision of the Dublin Regulation and the EU-Turkey Agreement, the government spokesman stated: “A diplomatic marathon has already been announced in the coming days and we are waiting to see how it develops. On Monday, the prime minister will meet with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and on Tuesday with Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz. Regarding refugee-migration, we are on the same grounds with Germany in order to proceed with a Dublin 4 review in August, not now, which will definitely have a burden sharing mechanism.”
Petsas also referred to the crisis in the health sector due to the coronavirus:
“We are giving priority to public health. However, this priority entails a financial cost and therefore there must be horizontal measures to support the economy. We have a Legislative Act that sets the framework for the worst case scenario. Depending on how this scenario evolves, measures will be taken. At this time, we are assessing the extent to which the measures should be implemented. The aim is to address the main problem of demand, which is falling: Firstly, because tourism flows are diminishing. Secondly, because there is uncertainty and people refrain from consumption. Thirdly, because they are forced to close some businesses or have a smaller turnover. We will increase demand with horizontal measures and target some specific sectors.”
Petsas also did not rule out the closure of schools and stressed that further measures are being considered.
In a non-paper entitled “An asymmetric threat at Greece’s eastern border” the Embassy of Greece in Washington offers the facts about the crisis on the Greek-Turkish Border.
• Since Friday, February 29, Greece has been subject to a sudden, massive, organized and coordinated pressure from population movements at its eastern, land and sea borders.
• Thousands have attempted to forcefully cross into Greece by land and sea. There have been no documented cases of refugees coming from Idlib, Syria. To the contrary, virtually all arrestees are other but Syrian nationality (Afghanis, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis, Iraqis, Somalis). Most of them speak Turkish, a fact indicating they have been living in Turkey for some time.
• This is an organized and coordinated operation that is encouraged and directed by the government and the authorities of Turkey through various means, including the use of disinformation campaigns from official sources and state media, the chartering of buses with covered license plates and the escorting of boats laden with irregular migrants by Turkish coastguard vessels.
• It is clearly evident that these people are used as human battering ram by Turkey, in order to exert diplomatic pressure and achieve political gains, both domestically and internationally.
• Turkish border Police and Coastal Guard have ceased to respond to calls from Greek and FRONTEX counterparts, in a break of a modus operandi, indicative of Turkey’s intentions.
• Turkey instead of curbing the traffickers’ channels of migrants, has itself turned into a trafficker. Repeated statements by the Turkish leadership, including President Erdogan himself, have been threatening Europe with the “opening of floodgates”, thus allowing this situation to develop and creating real and severe security risks for a neighbor and NATO ally, as well as the EU itself.
• Due to its coordinated and massive nature, this relocation of people has nothing to do with international law regarding the right of asylum, which concerns only individual cases.
• These actions are happening in breach of Turkey’s obligations under the 2016 EU-Turkey Joint Statement.
• Under these circumstances, the present situation is being an active, serious, unusual and asymmetric threat to Greece’s national security and public health. From the outset, the Government is taking all necessary measures to strengthen security of our land and sea borders to the greatest possible degree.
• Greece unequivocally exercises its sovereign right and constitutional obligation to protect its territorial integrity.
• Greece decided to increase the level of deterrence at the borders to the maximum, to not accept any new asylum application for 1 month and to request the deployment of Rapid Border Intervention teams (RABITSs) by FRONTEX, the European Border and Coast Guard Agency.
• The Government’s decision to raise the level of deterrence at the borders of Turkey to the maximum was unavoidable, since allowing entry, in an unruly and chaotic way, even to a few hundred people would send the wrong message to the millions of irregular migrants now living in Turkey and elsewhere and would act as a pull factor.
• Greek Prime Minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, visited on March 3, the GRE-TUR land border along with EU Com.Pres.Ursula von der Leyen, EU Council Pres.Charles Michel, EU Parl. Pres Davide Sassoli and Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic in an important message of support to Greece’s attempts to safeguard European borders.