Turkey: Germany to command NATO mission in Aegean to combat illegal migration

Turkey: Germany to command NATO mission in Aegean to combat illegal migration

Turkey: Germany to command NATO mission in Aegean to combat illegal migration

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In line with a recent NATO decision, Germany will lead a naval mission in the Aegean Sea and NATO planes will conduct reconnaissance flights on Turkey’s border areas as part of efforts for tackling illegal migration, Turkish officials have said.

Last week, in response to a joint request by three members, namely Turkey, Germany and Greece, NATO’s defense ministers agreed to contribute to an international effort aimed at ending the deadly smuggling of asylum-seekers across the sea from Turkey to Greece. 

In order to provide support to assist with the refugee and migrant crisis, at their Feb. 11 meeting NATO defense ministers agreed on a detailed implementation plan, Turkish Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Tanju Bilgiç said, while speaking at a press conference on Feb.15.

“Now, in line with the agreement, an activity by naval elements will be conducted under the command of Germany in the Aegean. Likewise, NATO planes will conduct an reconnaissance operation, monitoring and surveilling border areas near Syria,” Bilgiç said, noting that these efforts were part of “a package of assurance measures” announced by NATO in December 2015 which involved sending aircraft and ships to Turkey to strengthen Ankara’s air defenses on its border with Syria.

“The activity to be conducted in the Aegean Sea will be respectful of national sovereignty, responsibilities and authorities in the strictest sense. The ultimate goal is preventing illegal migration; details will become clear in the coming days,” he said.

NATO’s Standing Maritime Group 2 is currently deployed in the region and will be tasked with conducting reconnaissance, monitoring and surveillance of illegal crossings in the Aegean, NATO sources said last week.

It will also establish a direct link with the European Union’s border management agency, Frontex, sources said, noting that as part of the agreement, NATO will cooperate closely with national coast guards and the European Union. 

“We agreed in principle to use NATO AWACS surveillance planes to backfill national AWACS capabilities,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said following the Feb. 11 meeting, at which allied ministers also agreed to step up NATO support for the international coalition to counter the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). 

‘Readmission doesn’t apply to Syrians’

Turkey is completing its technical preparation in order to implement the EU-Turkey Readmission Agreement for third country nationals from June 1, Bilgiç noted, while however dismissing reported plans by some European countries to send illegally migrated refugees back to Turkey.

“Especially within the framework of the agreement with the EU, Turkey will fulfill its liabilities when the time comes and when appropriate. But one thing needs to be said too: Syrian refugees are not within the scope of this. Because countries already have international liabilities concerning Syrian refugees and there is need to separate them from the other ones who migrated with economic motives,” he said.