Greek migration minister: Austria will soon recognise its ‘enormous’ mistake

Ioannis Mouzalas [Sarantis Michalopoulos]

Austria will soon come to realise that its behaviour during the refugee crisis has been an enormous mistake, Greek Minister of Immigration Policy Ioannis Mouzalas said in an exclusive interview with EURACTIV Greece.

Ioannis Mouzalas spoke to EURACTIV’s Sarantis Michalopoulos after an EU interior ministers meeting in Brussels yesterday (25 February).

What was the outcome of the meeting? Do you believe that there is a way out of the deadlock?

I think that the result of today’s meeting was that almost the majority of countries was vigorously against any unilateral actions. And countries that acted unilaterally, said that they were forced to do so as another country made a similar move.

Our conclusion was that we need to implement what was decided during the last summit and that five police officers cannot abolish a decision taken by prime ministers. I cannot say whether this will be applied practically. We will see.

What is Turkey’s role in this process? Did EU ministers give a ultimatum to Ankara to implement the agreement by 7 March?

I think that the word ultimatum is heavy. We told Ankara in a quite friendly but determined way that until 7th of March we are expecting to see what we have not seen up to now. Thus, corresponding with its commitment to stop the refugee flows from its coasts.

In the event that the borders with Skopje remain closed, do you think there is a danger of suffocation?

There is no suffocation danger. There is a huge difficulty for Greece, some tens of thousands of refugees and illegal immigrants will remain in our country and we will face difficulty.

We didn’t have the time. We needed more days to create spaces that could host these refugees and immigrants instead of forcing them to walk the streets or sleep in coaches. We want to offer decent conditions for these people with the dignity that characterises our people.

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We will be in a very difficult position. I think that over the next ten days we will be able to handle the situation in a decent way. Not a good way, but a decent one.

Did you discuss NATO’s involvement in Aegean Sea?

The member states, the Dutch Presidency, the UN, the European Commission and the Frontex agreed with NATO’s plan.

Greece’s Alternate Foreign Minister for European Affairs, Nikos Xydakis, recently told EURACTIV that NATO should deal a blow to refugee traffickers. Do you agree with that?

Yes I do.

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Does Turkey agree? That’s the issue.

This is Turkey’s commitment, and it has to prove it practically. Our behaviour toward Turkey should be dependent on the implementation of its commitments.

We want to believe that as long as Turkey is politically committed, it really wants it. With the assistance of NATO, EU and Frontex it will manage to do it. There is no excuse now.

Do you agree with the argument that Turkey is taking advantage of the refugee crisis to promote its own political agenda and enhance its negotiation position?

Being a minister of a government I cannot take any position on this. Being a minister of a country which is a member of the EU, I expect Turkey to prove that it respects its commitments with the assistance of the EU and NATO.

What’s happening with Austria?

We think that Austria has made a very significant, very serious mistake, which is a hostile move against the EU and Greece.

We don’t believe that Austria is not our friend. Austria has received a remarkable number of refugees and it’s like Greece, a country that receives refugees. It’s struggling and at the same time it’s sharing a disproportional burden of the refugee crisis. Until now it has addressed the refugee crisis with seriousness and dignity. Its attitude toward Athens has also been the same.

But the last measure it took was a hostile one. I think, though, that a hostile move is not enough to anticipate the future or make us forget the past. After today’s meeting I think that Austria will understand that it is making an enormous mistake.

Would you like to comment on Hungary’s stance regarding the refugee crisis?

Hungary’s behaviour is not the behaviour of the EU.

It announced a referendum on refugee quotas.

It did and Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos replied to it. It is pretty clear that we fully disagree with such behaviour. We deeply disagree.

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