Greece shields its borders to Turkey with support from the EU

Greece shields its borders to Turkey with support from the EU

On Sunday, 1st March 2020, the Greek Prime Minister, Mr. Kyriakos Mitsotakis, announced that Greece would stop taking new asylum requests for a month, in its attempt to shield the EU’s outer borders to Turkey (https://www.euronews.com/2020/03/02/greece-cancels-asylum-as-turkey-lets-migrants-travel-towards-europe).

On Friday, 6th March 2020, following a request from the Minister of Foreign Affairs Nikos Dendias, an extraordinary meeting of the Foreign Affairs Council was taking place today in Zagreb, Croatia, to discuss the situation on the EU-Turkish border (https://www.ft.com/content/13fe6554-5ee9-11ea-b0ab-339c2307bcd4) (https://www.mfa.gr/en/current-affairs/statements-speeches/minister-of-foreign-affairs-nikos-dendias-to-attend-the-informal-gymnich-meeting-of-eu-ministers-of-foreign-affairs-and-the-extraordinary-meeting-of-the-eu-foreign-affairs-council-zagreb-5-6-march-2020.html).

The Greek Prime Minister’s move on Sunday, followed Turkey’s decision last week, that it would no longer uphold a 2016 accord with the EU, to keep refugees and migrants on its territory in return for billions of euros in aid, and therefore, opened its borders with the EU. Turkey’s move occurred during a time that Turkey has opened many fronts, and analysts argue that this is to move the attention to an issue that is sensitive to the internal public opinion, instead of what is happening at the fronts of Syria and Libya. (https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/03/greece-high-alert-turkey-border-200303104752845.html).

In turn, at least 30,000 individuals have been stopped from crossing the Greek border from Turkey from Saturday, 29th February 2020, until Wednesday, 5th March 2020, according to Greek government figures (https://greekcitytimes.com/2020/03/05/germany-sends-officers-to-boost-greek-borders-as-more-than-30000-prevented-from-illegal-entry/).

The Greek government has accused Turkey of fueling its propaganda, as the latter’s media has spread fake news in order to gain public support.

The above is depicted by the fact that Turkish media accused Greece’s Coast Guard of illegally ‘pushing back’ a boat with immigrants, which resulted in the drowning of an infant, on Monday, 2nd March 2020. However, it has been revealed that the boat was blocked in international waters away from Greece’s sea border, and by international law and European law was ordered to go back as it was trying to enter illegally. It was also discovered that the occupants of the boat overturned it in order to trigger a rescue operation (https://www.euronews.com/2020/03/02/greece-cancels-asylum-as-turkey-lets-migrants-travel-towards-europe).

On parallel lines, Greece has also announced that video footage allegedly showing a Syrian refugee shot dead near the Evros border is “fake news” (http://www.ekathimerini.com/250110/article/ekathimerini/news/greece-calls-fake-news-on-news-of-dead-refugee).

On Tuesday, 2nd March 2020, the Greek Prime Minister, Mr. Mitsotakis, accompanied the President of the EU Commission, Ms. Ursula von der Leyen, along with European Council Chief, Mr. Charles Michel and the European Parliament Speaker, Mr. David Sassoli, to inspect the land border (https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-51721356).

The EU leaders have given a show of support for Athens, describing the country as Europe’s “shield” in deterring migrants. The President of the EU Commission stated “This border is not only a Greek border, it is also a European border … I thank Greece for being our European aspida (shield) in these times”, and that they would provide Greece with “all the support needed” (https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/mar/03/migration-eu-praises-greece-as-shield-after-turkey-opens-border).

The support encompassed EUR 700 million in aid for migration management, including EUR 350 million available immediately to upgrade infrastructure at the border; a Frontex force comprising seven vessels, two helicopters, one plane, three thermal-vision vehicles and 100 extra border guards; and civil protection aid, including medical equipment and teams, and shelters (https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-51721356) (https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/mar/03/migration-eu-praises-greece-as-shield-after-turkey-opens-border).

Germany’s Interior Ministry announced on Wednesday, 4th March 2020, that is was dispatching one helicopter and twenty police officers to boost the guarding of the Greek-Turkish border (https://greekcitytimes.com/2020/03/05/germany-sends-officers-to-boost-greek-borders-as-more-than-30000-prevented-from-illegal-entry/).

EU members on Wednesday, 4th March 2020, rejected what they said is Turkey’s use of desperate migrants to pressure its neighbours — and strongly backed Greece’s border crackdown. In a statement agreed by European interior ministers meeting in Brussels, the 27 capitals said the “situation at the EU’s external borders is not acceptable”, and that the bloc “strongly rejects Turkey’s use of migratory pressure for political purposes” (http://www.seychellesnewsagency.com/articles/12534/EU+backs+Greece+and+rejects+Turkish+%27use+of+migrants%27).

EU Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson told journalists that “The right to asylum does not mean that Erdogan can send how many migrants he wants into the European Union” (https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/03/eu-turkey-tensions-rise-refugees-gather-greek-border-200304214730160.html).