NATO’s role in the Aegean will be to deal a blow to refugee traffickers, Greece’s Alternate Foreign Minister for European Affairs, Nikos Xydakis, told EurActiv on Thursday (18 February). EurActiv Greece reports.
Germany, Turkey and Greece recently agreed to a request that a NATO mission be dispatched to the Aegean, in order to combat refugee smuggling.
Turkey and Greece have agreed to ask for a NATO mission to monitor refugee flows in the Aegean Sea and combat people smugglers, a senior German government official said late yesterday (10 February).
Commenting on the ongoing refugee crisis in the EU, Xydakis said that member states should stick together and find solutions based on the political tools and decisions taken by the institutions.
“We need to find a solution with Turkey and at the same time, use NATO services which were invited by Germany, Greece and Turkey,” he said, adding:
“We can, also, turn to national solutions and come closer to the end of Europe.”
Xydakis also blamed Hungary for not helping to resolve the refugee crisis.
“Hungary has sent four officials to Frontex and another one to the European Asylum Support Office. It has neither vessels nor a navy. Countries that have just land borders talk about protection of sea borders,” Xydakis commented.
Athens blamed Hungary for not contributing to the country’s efforts to tackle the refugee crisis and for its “political decision” to help Macedonia build a fence at the Greek border.
He added that Germany, on the other hand, has been quite supportive from the very beginning.
“Berlin told us that it has four coastguard vessels in the North Sea, (that) it could not help us with sea equipment, but pledged any kind of help, and it’s providing that,” the Greek minister said.
Referring to NATO’s role in Aegean, Xydakis said: “We know that NATO’s military assistance will be a deterrence means, it cannot rescue but it can collect information and deal a blow to smugglers.”
Asked by EurActiv whether that could take place at sea, the Greek official said that operations should also take place in the coastal areas of Turkey.
“As long as Turkey is part of NATO, we believe that something positive could happen. We need to break the smugglers network.”
He continued by stressing that the EU is aware of the fact that this is not an “ad hoc network whose aim is to transfer refugees”.
“[The smugglers] have used networks, infrastructure, the sea, and land roads through which they have been trafficking weapons, drugs, human trafficking, and cigarettes in the Mediterranean,” Xydakis pointed out.
He also said that Europe had a long tradition of hosting immigrants, as big member states like Germany, France and Belgium have managed to integrate millions of them.
“(Over) the last 25 years, Greece has integrated 1.5 million people from Eastern Europe, Africa and Asia.”
“The end of the Cold War led millions of Eastern European to the rest of Europe. One cannot use racist terms.”
“Will Europe politically collapse because some cannot understand that we face a big problem that can turn into an asymmetric threat?” he wondered.
Senior analysts said yesterday that NATO’s operation would help the Western allies monitor Turkish operations against the traffickers.
Senior experts said today (17 February) that unless Turkey starts targeting the mafias helping migrants cross into Europe, the worsening refugee crisis could push the British to vote to leave the Union, and bring about other disastrous consequences.