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Alternate FM Xydakis’ statement on the refugee issue, in response to statements from European politicians

Monday, 25 January 2016

In recent days, extremist conservative European circles have been attempting to target Greece, presenting it as the source of the refugee problem. In this context, they have taken the Greek coastguard to task for supposedly not “protecting” the maritime borders by intercepting refugee and migration flows by military means.

We are absolutely clear on this.

Greece is guarding its national border, which is also a European border. What it cannot do, and what it will not start to do, is sink boats and drown women and children, because this is prohibited by international and European conventions, as well as by our cultural values. Greece is a guardian of European culture, and the same holds true for the countries that are supporting the refugees, including Germany, Austria, Sweden and others. To date, Greece has rescued 104,000 children and adults from the waters of the Aegean.

The pressure on Greece to change the terms of controlling the Aegean (How should it do that? By pushing back and sinking plastic boats?) entails the risk of increasing the already large number of deaths: Just the day before yesterday we mourned another 42 lives, including 17 young children. Thus, anyone asking for this should have the political honesty not to ask for it indirectly, but directly, endorsing the illegal policy of refoulement. Anything else is political opportunism.

To refute a few more lies: As of July, Greece requested additional assistance in the form of personnel, vessels, equipment and Eurodac devices from Frontex, along with the upgrading of operation Poseidon in the Aegean. This assistance was late in arriving. Nevertheless, even with reduced forces, Frontex, a European institution, has been operating together with Greece for years now in the Aegean and shares responsibility for safeguarding the European borders. Anyone who wants to level criticism at the rules based on which Frontex operates should do so openly, within the framework of the EU.

Moreover, despite any delays, Greece will be completing the hotspots in a matter of days; hotspots that are already operating. However, the aforementioned critics needn’t respond: Will the completion of the hotspots solve their problem, or will they then remember that what concerns them is the number of refugees?

What does Europe need to do? It needs to quickly implement the programme – decided on by the European Council – for the relocation of 160,000. A programme facing many problems due to the fact that many EU member states are either delaying their response to the hundreds of applications for relocation from Greece or – even worse – completely rejecting the process. Is this, too, perhaps the fault of Greece, a country that, since 1990, has hosted some one million immigrants – 10% of its population – in completely harmonious conditions? And of course Greece itself is accepting the relocation of refugees. Is it perhaps Greece’s fault that the EU has been unable to exert pressure for the return of migrants to their countries of origin?

It is vital that the EU’s Joint Action Plan with Turkey go into operation. From the very outset, Greece agreed with this Plan, which provides for a drastic reduction in flows, safe relocation of refugees from Turkish territory, and extensive readmission of migrants to Turkey, within the framework of the Greek-Turkish readmission agreement.

At the same time, the European Union needs to get to work on the real problem – the war in Syria and the humanitarian crisis in Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey – taking on, with its organs and the Netherlands Presidency, jointly with the UN, the befitting role of peacemaker. Only in this way will we, all Europeans together, resolve the current crisis – as well as the next crisis, which, in the world we live in, is inevitable.

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