Greece’s Migration Minister Yannis Mouzalas on Wednesday (3 August) denied having called for a backup strategy – a “Plan B” – in case the EU-Turkey refugee deal collapses amid escalating tensions between Brussels and Ankara.
The German daily Bild quoted Mouzalas as saying, “We are very worried. We need a Plan B in any case.”
“The minister denies Bild’s translation of his comments,” the Greek immigration ministry said in a statement, publishing what it said were Mouzalas’s answers in Greek to Bild’s questions.
According to the statement, Mouzalas had actually said, “Greece is committed to the EU-Turkey deal, which depends on both the EU’s support and on Turkey’s duty to respect it.”
“Clearly we are concerned, but for now, the number of people arriving on the Greek islands [since the deal was enforced in March] does not indicate that the deal is not being respected,” he said.
Bild did not immediately respond to an AFP request for comment.
Contacted by EURACTIV, European Commission spokesperson for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship Tove Ernst yesterday said that the EU remained committed to the EU-Turkey refugee deal but added that the challenge was greater than that agreement alone.
“We have a comprehensive European Agenda on Migration addressing all aspects of the migration challenge. We have spent the past 15 months putting in place the tools needed to future-proof our systems, both internally and externally,” Ernst said.
“Our assistance to Greece and other countries under pressure continues, our measures to tackle the root causes of migration and preparations for the rapid roll-out of the new European Border and Coast Guard which was approved by the European Parliament and Council before the summer, among many other measures,” she added.
A matter of interest
Meanwhile, German government spokesperson Ulrike Demmer yesterday said that Berlin remained committed to the agreement with Turkey and would continue to implement it.
In the same line, German foreign ministry spokesman Martin Schaefer pointed out that the agreement in principle worked out as well as the balance of interests between the European Union and Turkey.
He added that the European refugee and migration policy is not only a deal with Turkey, but instead there is a whole set of ideas and concrete measures aimed at better guarding EU external borders.
Greece has become a key gateway country for migrants seeking to reach Europe. At the height of Europe's migrant crisis last year, thousands of asylum seekers landed every day on Greek Aegean islands close to the coast of Turkey.
Arrival numbers have since plunged following an EU-Turkey deal reached in March, in which Ankara agreed to take back Syrian migrants arriving in Greece in exchange for billions of euros in aid and visa-free European travel for Turkish citizens.
But relations between Ankara and the West have deteriorated over criticism against Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's massive crackdown following a failed coup.