Foreign Ministry spokesperson Konstantinos Koutras, in his responses to journalists’ questions on the latest developments on the European level in the refugee/migration crisis noted the following:
1. Everyone acknowledges that the dimensions of the current refugee/migration issue greatly exceed the management capabilities of any one state – of any size – surpass the European level, and constitute a global crisis.
2. As everyone knows, it is absurd for anyone to demand a Greek or other national solution – or a lopsided solution that burdens only certain countries – to a global issue. But this is unfortunately what is being done by a number of sides.
3. There are many who claim, albeit from a safe distance, that in Greece’s position they would have all the solutions ready, all the questions answered, all the necessary structures in place to deal with the unprecedented “tsunami” of refugee/migrant influxes. What is tragic is that Greece’s loudest critics are essentially trying to throw off negative publicity concerning their own practices.
4. While these critics continue to live in a virtual reality, Greece and the Greek people are experiencing unalloyed reality on the front line, shouldering both Europe and the European values, in spite of possible errors and inabilities that inevitably arise in the face of crises of such terrifying dimensions. Some facts speak for themselves:
• The Hellenic Coastguard has rescued over 90,000 of our fellow human beings in recent months.
• The response of local communities to the tragedy being experienced by the refugees/migrants is truly an example of the greatness of the human spirit.
• In November 2015 alone, of the 54,000 registrations carried out in hotspots in Europe, 51,300 were carried out in Greece.
• The primary expenses for managing the refugee/migrant influxes are estimated at €1.5 billion – in a state that is concurrently going through an unprecedented fiscal adjustment – and that does not include the indirect expenses incurred and the profits that have been lost due to the refugee/migration crisis.
5. From the very outset, Greece pressed for unified European and effective responses to the refugee/migration problem.
• It pressed as early as May – when the “Sophia” naval operation in Libya was being planned – for attention to the Eastern Mediterranean, where the Central Mediterranean refugee currents would head.
• This past July, Greece started pressing for an increased presence of FRONTEX personnel/vessels in the Aegean. The response of the EU member states came nowhere near meeting the occasion. Essentially, FRONTEX exists thanks to Greece. Since 2012 it has been active in the country, supporting Greek services in monitoring and guarding our borders: initially our land borders (Evros) and subsequently the maritime borders (Poseidon, Aegean islands), and now, again, the land border with FYROM.
• As of July, it pressed for the activation of rapid reaction teams – RABITs – on Aegean islands. These teams had been activated successfully in 2012, on the land border with Turkey. The request was essentially rejected by FRONTEX, due to inability to cover needs.
• It pressed for operational monitoring of the influx of refugees/migrants and the creation of hotspots in Turkey as a real solution for the management of the refugee issue and for dealing with the human trafficking rings. No one listened.
• It pressed for the conclusion of new, and the implementation of existing, Readmission Agreements on the European level, with the aim of returning illegal migrants to their countries of origin. The EU’s results in this area are dispiriting, and everyone knows it. For example, Pakistan recently refused to allow the disembarkation in Islamabad of 20 of its citizens from a special flight that had been organized with the collaboration of the EU.
• It pressed for at least 100 Eurodac devices – only 39 have been provided. Nevertheless, all of the new arrivals are registered and fingerprinted systematically.
• It pressed for a real mechanism for equal burden sharing among the EU member states, via relocation. To date, unfortunately, the system has failed – with very few exceptions. The relevant EU decisions on the highest level have not met with compliance, and, what’s more, it has been announced that these decisions will be the challenged in the EU Court to keep them from being implemented. Who is announcing this? Those who, wagging their fingers, are the first to demand that Greece meet all of its obligations.
6. Despite any of the problems, omissions or delays, Greece will meet all of its obligations, without exception. But it asks that others do the same. The European Union needs to impose this on everyone.
7. Although there are many who discredit the European principle of Solidarity, Greece insists and will continue to insist on European principles. And while it is shouldering the bulk of the burden of the refugee crisis, which was brought on by the mistaken decisions of others, it remains a factor for stability and values, located in the center of a triangle of instability formed by Ukraine, Libya and Syria, with the latter being the gaping wound of the Middle East and the main source of war refugees.
8. Because Greece wants the same thing as everyone who really wants to protect the European idea from breaking down: effective control of Europe’s external borders and coordinated European handling of every refugee/migrant, with registration, identification and humanitarian treatment. This is the only way to safeguard the Schengen acquis as a union of security, solidarity, freedom.
9. Finally, there may be many who – for their own populist, domestic reasons – criticize the human stance of Greece and its residents towards the refugees and migrants. Greece insists and will continue to insist on respecting all of the rules of international and humanitarian law that are accepted by developed societies.
10. Greece insists and will continue to insist on respect for European values. This is non-negotiable.