Greece says Turkish demands obstructing NATO mission in Aegean

Greece says Turkish demands obstructing NATO mission in Aegean

ATHENS – Reuters
Greece says Turkish demands obstructing NATO mission in Aegean

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras welcomes NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg (R) at the Maximos Mansion in Athens, Greece April 22, 2016 - REUTERS

Turkish demands are posing obstacles to a NATO mission in the Aegean Sea aimed at countering the smuggling of migrants and refugees into Europe, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said on April 22, after a meeting with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg. 

NATO sent its ships into Greek and Turkish waters in the Aegean in March. On April 21, Stoltenberg said the number of migrants and refugees crossing the sea from Turkey was falling significantly, but smugglers can rapidly change routes and authorities must not reduce security efforts prematurely. 

Speaking after a meeting with Stoltenberg in Athens, Tsipras said obstacles included not having full operational access in the region. 

“Greece will undertake every effort so that NATO’s mission contributes to the solution of the crisis,” Tsipras said. 

“Unfortunately it’s clear that the obstacles .. arise from Turkey’s unilateral demands and positions. Demands and positions which unfortunately are also expressed through a rise in activities which violate our airspace.”
Europe signed an agreement with Turkey last month to close off the main route into Europe for more than a million people, most fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East, Asia and Africa. 

“Our collective efforts are making a real difference. There’s been a significant reduction in the number of people crossing the Aegean from Turkey to Greece,” Stoltenberg said. “... We need to stay engaged.”

Meanwhile, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) was not as optimistic as NATO. 

It said that migrants in boats are landing in Greece at the rate of about 150 a day from Turkey after a hiatus, indicating that the “hermetic sealing” of this route to Europe appears to be over. 

“The arrivals in Greece which were down to literally zero this month are beginning to creep back up. In the last three days we had 150 people arriving each day... It does show that route might be picking back up,” IOM spokesman Joel Millman told a Geneva news briefing April 22. 

“It could be the weather, it could be any number of things, it could be that smugglers are getting more creative.”