Greece saw surge in migrant crossings from Turkey: Minister

Greece saw surge in migrant crossings from Turkey: Minister

İpek Yezdani – ISTANBUL
Greece saw surge in migrant crossings from Turkey: Minister

The number of irregular migrants who entered Greece from Turkey increased by 37 percent in 2018 compared to the previous year, Greek Deputy Foreign Minister Markos Bolaris has said.

“We witnessed a significant increase of migratory flows, both at sea and land borders, in 2018, which amounted to 37 percent. According to the latest statistics, flows in the first three months of 2019 have increased by 7 percent compared to the same period of time last year,” said Bolaris in an interview with daily Hürriyet at the Greek Consulate in Istanbul.

“We acknowledge the fact that Turkey makes great efforts to manage the flows and is particularly burdened with refugees from conflict zones. It is, however, necessary, to step up efforts to control the flows with the ultimate goal of bringing them to a halt. We hope that the agreed measures with a view to improving the exchange of information and our cooperation in tackling smuggling networks will help achieve this common goal,” he said.

In March 2016, Turkey and the European Union agreed to end irregular migration and replace it instead with legal channels of resettlement of refugees to the union. The aim is to replace disorganized, chaotic, irregular and dangerous migratory flows by organized, safe and legal pathways to Europe for those entitled to international protection in line with EU and international law.

“Our two countries have been working closely on the joint EU-Turkey statement of March 18, 2016. To date, its implementation has been rather satisfactory and we are committed to continue to make every effort to achieve the best possible results,” said the Greek minister about the agreement.   

Bolaris also urged Turkey to re-implement its readmission deal with Greece, referring to a deal struck in 2013, with Turkey agreeing to take back migrants who traveled illegally to the EU.

The deal says for every Syrian migrant sent back to Turkey from the Greek islands, one Syrian in Turkey will be resettled in the EU.

“We note that Turkey does not implement the EU-Turkey Readmission Agreement for third-country nationals and stateless persons and has suspended since last June the implementation of the bilateral Readmission Protocol. It is, therefore, no longer possible to return to Turkey the illegal immigrants who entered through the land border. We would like to urge Turkey to resume implementation of the bilateral protocol,” he said.

Bolaris also touched upon the simplified visa program between Turkey and Greece, granting Turkish citizens daily visas at the border gates of some of the Greek islands.

Bolaris said that the easy visa program will continue also this summer for Turkish tourists visiting the Greek islands. 

“Greece will promote and support the application of this project for the current year in order to promote cross-border short-term tourism by enabling Turkish and third country nationals to visit Greece through a swift, secure and transparent procedure, for mutual interest at a bilateral level,” he said.

“There has been a decrease in 2018 to the number of Turkish citizens travelling in Greece, possibly due to the Turkish Lira devaluation. In 2019 we would like to see more Turkish citizens visiting Greece, not only during summer in the islands, but also off-season, especially for city breaks, in cities as Athens, Thessaloniki, Kavala etc.,” he said.