Greek PM, Kyriakos Mitsotakis
First of all, I’d like to thank the President of the European Council, Charles Michel, who first had the idea of organising this trip, President of the Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Parliament, David Sassoli, Prime Minister of Croatia, Andrej Plenković, for being with us today here, in Evros, at the Greek-Turkish border.
What has happened here over the past days is painfully obvious to everyone. Turkey, in full breach of the EU-Turkey statement, has systematically encouraged and assisted tens of thousands of refugees and migrants to illegally enter Greece. It has failed; and will continue to fail should it pursue this strategy.
This is no longer a refugee problem. This is a blatant attempt by Turkey to use desperate people to promote its geopolitical agenda and to divert attention from the horrible situation in Syria. The tens of thousands of people who tried to enter Greece over the past few days did not come from Idlib. They have been living safely in Turkey for a long period of time; most of them speak Turkish fluently. Europe will not be blackmailed by Turkey over the refugee issue. We stand ready to support Turkey in dealing with this refugee problem and find a solution to the Syria conundrum, but not under these circumstances.
My duty is to protect the sovereignty of my country. At the same time, Greece is also doing Europe a great service. The border of Greece is the external border of the European Union. We will protect it. Greece expects tangible solidarity from the European Union, and I can tell you the presence of the entire European leadership here, at the outer borders if the Union, sends a clear signal to everyone.
But let’s be honest. Europe has not been up to the task of dealing with the migration crisis. I hope this crisis will serve as a wake-up call for everyone to assume their responsibilities.
Ladies and gentlemen, together with my colleagues, we’ve seen first-hand what is happening here, far from the treacherous fake news propaganda that aims to conceal the truth. There is only one truth: Turkey carries out its threat and attempts to send tens of thousands of desperate people illegally in Greece, asking for a quid pro quo. Although Turkey has been characterised as a safe country, currently being the de facto home to many of those people, it still uses them as a geopolitical tool to serve its own purposes. This way, Turkey blatantly violates the EU-Turkey statement, according to which Turkey must retain refugees in its territory, while preventing illegal pathways to Greece.
Unfortunately, Turkey has become an official migrant smuggler. The EU and Greece do not accept this situation which is demonstrated by all kinds of evidence: public statements by President Erdogan threatening to open the gates to allow the entry of migrants into Europe, videos showing Turkish buses transferring thousands of people for free accompanied by Turkish gendarmerie, testimonies of those who arrived in Evros, as well as messages from smugglers who talk about allegedly open borders.
Dear friends, this is no longer a refugee and migration problem. It is an asymmetrical threat against Greece’s Eastern borders, which are also European borders. The unlawful entry of thousands of people turns into a breach of our sovereign territory, with people of unknown origin and unknown purposes at the forefront, who don’t hesitate to blatantly use violence to enter Greek territory. They throw teargas used by the Turkish army. It is my responsibility to safeguard the integrity and sovereignty of my country, and I intend to do that. It is the duty of the EU to assist Greece and they will do that. So, we respond in order to protect our borders and to ensure the safety of all of Europe. We are fully in line with EU and international law.
Above all, however, what happens in the Greek borders is an international political issue of the utmost importance, and it must be addressed as such.
Greece, on its part, has shown that it can defend its rights by legal means and determination. Over the past few days alone, our forces have prevented more than 24,000 attempts of illegal entry in Evros and the Aegean. They arrested dozens of people who illegally crossed the borders and rescued many migrants at sea. I would like to congratulate the women and men of the Greek Police, Armed Forces and Coastguard for their services, as well as the citizens who spontaneously supported them in their hard work.
Mr. Erdogan’s threats did not make it through; they crashed upon the Greek people’s unity, its morale and the operational skills of its children, as well as the European solidarity, which I am certain will be demonstrated even more decisively over the next few days.
The message is clear to everyone: do not try to enter Greece illegally, you won’t succeed, and you take full responsibility for your choices. Greece has proved its sensibility, accommodating over 100,000 people, but an international issue cannot burden a single country alone. In fact, when a fair solution is forthcoming, humanity turns into frustration. Because solidarity cannot only be expressed in words; it should be targeted towards the Greek people, whose safety, properties and social peace are already threatened.
Besides, only a state can offer help to the persecuted, but there is no state without safe borders. And there are no rights without the rule of law. Europe has failed so far to find a common solution to this complex problem. Some have tried to close their eyes and let the states at the external borders face this lasting crisis on their own. Your presence here is the best proof that this is starting to change.
Thanks again to the European leaders for their support, which will certainly become even more tangible. I would like to highlight once more the joy and pride I felt next to those who serve here, in the Greek borders of Evros. I was, I am and I will be with them, expressing all Greeks.
But I remain optimistic. Greece first recognises that Turkey can help in the refugee issue. It needs Europe’s support, but not in the context of threats. Greece and Europe cannot be blackmailed, they react. And do not provoke, they discuss. I hope that will happen soon. In any case, however, our borders are non-negotiable, as is our desire for an effective European policy on the issue. Armed with law and reason, we will succeed.
After all, help to those in need can only be provided by a state. But there can be no state, unless its borders are secure. And there can be no rights, if the state cannot provide justice. Up to this point, Europe has failed to find a common solution to this complex problem. Some opted to look the other way and let the countries located at the external borders to face this on-going crisis by themselves.
Thank you again for your participation and let me now give the floor to the President of the Council, Charles Michel.
President of the European Council, Charles Michel
Thank you, first of all dear Prime Minister, dear Kyriakos. I would like to thank you for the invitation to visit the Greek borders, because it is important in such a situation not to stay in Brussels but to be present on the ground and to have the best possible understanding about what is happening and what happened the last days here in Turkey. I would like also to express our support for all what you did with your security services, with your team, with your government.
These last days, there is a strong, important point: the Greek borders are the European borders and what you are doing is important for Greece, it’s crucial as well for the future of the European Union. And our presence together, here in your country, today, is a very strong message that we would like to send to the Greek people, to the European citizens, to the rest of the world: We are together because we consider that the borders’ protection is essential.
And of course it’s crucial to act in a proportionate manner and to show respect for the human dignity and to show respect for the international law. And we trust you, your government because we know even if the task is very difficult, very complex, that it’s very important as Europeans to protect our borders and the same time to show respect for international law and for human rights.
You mentioned many important points. Indeed we have an agreement with Turkey on migration and indeed it’s very important to implement this agreement. That’s why, at the European level, we will continue to guarantee the implementation of this agreement but we expect from the Turkish side that they will also respect what they promised in the framework of this agreement.
On Syria, it’s important to make all possible efforts in order to give more chance, more possibilities for a political solution, for a diplomatic solution. It’s why we are also supporting all the efforts made by the United Nations in order to give more possibilities, in order to make more progress. This is a tragedy, this is a tragedy for many people and it is very important to be committed in order to give more hope and more positive perspective in the future.
Today, High Representative Borrell is in Ankara in order to express the European message and to express a strong European message. Wednesday, we have a meeting in Brussels with the European Ministers of Internal Affairs, of Home Affairs. In Friday we have in Croatia a meeting with the Ministers of Foreign Affairs. It means that we are acting, that we are united together. And in the next days we will continue to work together with you, with your government, with all European institutions in order to show that we are able to protect our borders, that we are able to show unity. When we need to be strong and to be united, we are able to show that it’s possible.
President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen
Thank you very much Kyriakos. I want to thank you for the invitation. Indeed these are extraordinary circumstances and we’ve just been to the border area and have seen how tense and how difficult the situation is. The Greek authorities are facing a very difficult task in containing the situation and I want to thank the Greek border guards and the coast guards. I want to thank the civilians, the police, the servicemen and servicewomen and I want to thank Frontex for their tireless effort.
It is important for me to be here today with you and to tell you that the Greek worries are our worries. This border is not only a Greek border but it is also a European border and I stand here today, as a European, at your side. I also want to express my compassion for the migrants that have been lured through false promises into this desperate situation.
We have come here today to send a very clear statement of European solidarity and support to Greece. Our first priority is making sure that order is maintained at the Greek external border, which is also a European border.
I am fully committed to mobilising all the necessary operational support to the Greek authorities. Following Greek’s request, Frontex is now getting ready to deploy a rapid border intervention team (RABIT). Frontex is preparing the deployment of one offshore vessel and six coastal patrol vessels, two helicopters, one aircraft, three thermal vision vehicles, 100 border guards -in addition to the current 530. Border guards will be deployed by Frontex at the land and at the sea borders.
Secondly, we can provide financial assistance of 700 million euros to Greece. This consists of 350 million which is immediately available, plus an additional 350 million euros that can be requested as part of an amending budget. The financial assistance is for migration management generally, for setting up and managing the infrastructure needed.
Thirdly, we launch the civil protection mechanism based on a request made by Greece. Through this Greece can receive assistance in terms of medical equipment, medical teams, shelters, tents, blankets, as needed. Kyriakos, Charles, David, Andrej and I will remain in very close contact in the coming days and weeks to make sure that we deliver all the support that is needed.
The situation at our border is not only Greece’s issue to manage, it is a responsibility of Europe as a whole and we will manage it in an orderly way with unity, solidarity and determination. Those who seek to test Europe’s unity will be disappointed. We will hold the line and our unity will prevail.
Now is the time for concentrated action and cool heads and acting based on our values. Turkey is not an enemy and people are not just means to reach a goal. We would all do well to remember both in the days to come. I thank Greece for being our European “aspida” in these times.
Greek PM, Kyriakos Mitsotakis
We translate “aspida” as shield.
President of the European Parliament, David Sassoli:
Thanks you Prime Minister, my colleagues. It is really important to be here together with the political leadership, the Government and the Parliament. However, if we had to go back to Brussels and the situation carried on like it has so far, the present occasion would very likely prove yet another wasted opportunity. That is because, as we can see every single day, it is necessary to reinforce a Common EU Immigration Policy. I am very worried that many governments are still not aware of this need.
If a year and half ago we had listened to the European Parliament and had proceeded with a reform of the Dublin system, we would probably not be faced with these conditions today. For the European Parliament, whoever arrives in Greece arrives in Europe. Whoever arrives in Italy, Malta or Spain arrives in Europe. So it is up to Europe to adopt an Immigration Policy, to share the burden of immigration, to proceed to a fair redistribution, which shall safeguard that in Europe freedoms and people’s rights are guaranteed. But, if we do not have a Common Immigration Policy how could we possibly guarantee this and proudly assure a leading role in the defence of human rights?
We need a breakthrough. The presence, today, of the President of the Commission, the Council and the Parliament means that this is an invitation to Europe to determinately deal with the possibility of having a Common Immigration Policy. At the same time, we are here to say thanks to Greece, to the citizens of Greece, to all those who have been trying for a long time -not just today- to protect people, to avoid adding suffering to more suffering.
We are also here for a third reason: to let Turkey know that we are here to talk. Turkey should respect the agreements! I believe this is the point of this visit for the European Parliament.
We have to go back to Brussels, and this is the commitment we are undertaking, to actually create a Common Policy. This is what Greek citizens have been asking today, along with all citizens from the Mediterranean area, from all the countries in Southern Europe facing this challenge; not a policy limited to a tale of events, but a medium-to-long-term strategy.
Allow me also to say something in view of the fact that Greece now hosts many minors, thousands of unaccompanied minors. I believe that a commitment I want to undertake, along with the other institutions, is to adopt a strategy for these unaccompanied minors. We have to protect their future. And I believe that European governments should commit to this goal stronger than they have so far, also with the aim to be generous. Because, often enough, the policies of some European governments are shaped not by generosity, but aiming to serve their own interests. I believe the European area deserves something more, and this is also the way to show respect to the great effort that the Greek authorities, institutions and citizens have devoted to this critical moment.
President of Croatia, Andrej Plenković
Thank you very much, Kyriakos. Thank you Ladies and Gentlemen, Ursula, Charles, David.
On behalf of the Croatian Presidency and the Council of the European Union, we came here today to first of all express our solidarity and support to the Greek government, but also to demonstrate our common European determination to help Greece and to find a European response to this new migratory situation, or potential crisis.
I would like to commend Kyriakos for having altered the policy of Greece when it comes to protecting its borders and that they say not to allow illegal migration on its territory, because, as Ursula has said, Greece is now the shield, the real external border of the European Union and the guarantor of stability for the entire European continent.
I am saying this, also, as the Prime Minister of one of the countries on the so-called Eastern Mediterranean -Western Balkan Migratory route and, therefore, it is at the interest of all of us that the Greek borders remain non-porous. Therefore, much appreciation for the briefing and the efforts of the Greek police, military, fireman and the Civil Perfection which have been engaged during the last couple days.
I brought here with me my Minister of Interior who will chair tomorrow the extraordinary meeting of the Council of the Ministers of Interior. This is the right signal that we are acting timely and that we will send the right messages, messages of support with the rapid teams that could be deployed with the contribution of Frontex, with the contribution of EASO, as well as the financial contribution, which Ursula said is already available.
At the same time, we will send the message to Turkey that the good relations between the European Union and Turkey depend on both of us. We will seek to find the political and diplomatic solution which will de-escalate the situation that we just witnessed today here in Kastanies, a few hours ago.
Our support, as Presidency, will be being committed at all levels to address this issue and to prevent another situation like the one that we all went through in 2015 and 2016. I have said many times that no other phenomenon has influenced the political landscape of Europe and its Member States as has this migratory crisis that we have seen in the past four or five years. Therefore, we should learn the lessons from that experience, stay together, hold the line and support the efforts of the Greek government, which we just witnessed. Thank you very much.
Greek PM, Kyriakos Mitsotakis
I would like to conclude by thanking you all for being here. It is very important to have this expression of solidarity by all the institutions of the European Union to Greece, to the Greek people, to the Greek Armed Forces, to the Greek Police for the work that they do in protecting Europe’s boarders.
As you said Andrej, this government is pursuing a different path when it comes to border protection. We are sending a very clear signal that migrants and refugees cannot be used as instruments, as pawns in a geopolitical game. They are the true victims of these types of policies and this is an approach that cannot be deemed acceptable. If Europe is to protect its citizens, then it needs to protect its borders and this is exactly what we, Italy, Spain, what the other countries who are the external borders of the European Union are doing. At the same time, we cannot do this on our own. The whole purpose of putting together Frontex was exactly to share the burden of border protection. Hence all the assistance that the European Union can provide us will be very much appreciated, because this, as you saw, is a difficult task.
At the same time, the fact that we are able to manage our borders and limit illegal migration to the maximum possible does not mean that we should not reach a final compromise in terms of changing our existing asylum policies. This is a topic that has bothered us for many years. If I want to be a little bold and provocative: we have not used the time wisely since the last migration crisis to address the situation effectively. It’s about time that we do it now.
We need to be able to demonstrate effective burden-sharing when addressing this complex problem. We need different types of policies, we need to be innovative, we need to think out of the box and frankly we cannot afford to have too many free-riders within the European Union who pass the burden of managing the external borders to those countries who by virtue of geography happen to be placed where they are, while at the same time not assuming any of responsibilities in terms of managing this problem internally.
I know that they are interesting ideas coming out of the Commission. We will be very much looking forward to contribute towards finally reaching a solution on this very delicate file.
I would like to thank you once more, all of you, for being here. These have been testing times for our country, lots of people haven’t had any sleep over the past three to four days in order to do their job. We prove that we can do the job, we can protect the borders, we will continue to protect the borders and I honestly hope now that the threat of actually sending hundreds of thousands of people to Europe has been materialised without success, that it is time to maybe try a different approach.
It is the one thing, at least, we owe to those people who sometimes feel that they have nothing to lose but today are used as instruments to promote ambitions. Again, thank you very much for your presence, it means a lot to the government, but primarily it means a lot to the people who live here, in this part of Greece, in Evros, it means a lot to the entire Greek society.
Thank you very much for being here.