[Evros, gateway to Europe 2] Turkey pulls the strings at the EU's external borders (G. Koumoutsakos)

(B2 in Athens) Georgios Koumoutsakos is Deputy Minister for Migration and Asylum in the government of Kyriákos Mitsotákis formed in July 2019. Today, he accuses Turkey of playing with EU borders... 

G. Koumoustakos (© ES/B2)

The new government illustrates Greece's shift to the right, after five years of the Tsipras government (2015-2019). Former MEP (2009-2014), Georgios Koumoutsakos was vice president of the EU Turkey delegation to the European Parliament.

The agreement between the EU and Turkey, signed in 2016, provides that Greece can send back to Turkey any refugee who is not authorized to stay in Greece. The number of returns is low (1), how do you explain this? 

— We passed a new law on asylum. We are strengthening the staff (for the examination of asylum application files) in order to have very fast procedures. If we have faster procedures, we will have the possibility of more returns. We have already started, but on the other side, the joint declaration foresees obligations for Turkey as well. They must eradicate the networks of traffickers. They do almost nothing regarding the networks that are next to Greece. Otherwise, we would not see these life jackets and boats on our shores…

Respect for the agreement depends on the goodwill of the Turks? 

— The Turks have another obligation. They must deter the appearance of new overland migration routes. There too, we have a problem between the island of Samothrace (carte) and Alexandropoulis. They have to do something. They must also answer questions from the Greek authorities. However, when the police send detailed questions about traffickers, there is almost never a response.

Does the border therefore remain under pressure? 

— The repetition of Turkish statements saying we will open the doors “, which we heard at the highest level of the Turkish government, even at the level of the President of the Republic, are an invitation to traffickers and migrants to come to the borders. This increases the pressure on the borders. This certifies at the same time that they control the flows. Because by saying that they can open, they admit that they control the flows.

Yet there is this agreement between the EU and Turkey, which posed a certain number of points in return for the Facility granted to Turkey for the reception of Syrians on its soil?

— We fully support the application of the joint declaration.

In the European Parliament, deputies wonder about the fact that the Greek authorities do not authorize Frontex to intervene on the border with Turkey? Is it correct ? —

- Of course not. It is the Turkish authorities who do not accept in any case to see Frontex patrolling their territorial waters or on their territory. What we want is to strengthen our cooperation with Frontex. Cooperation is essential for us. But the Turks will never accept.

Why ? 

— That is a question to put to the Turkish authorities.

The High Commissioner for Refugees expresses reservations about this new law on asylum (adopted in July 2019 and applicable since January 1). What do you answer him? 

— We have started implementing this reform. Let it work.

Do you intend to enlarge the barbed wire at the land borders? 

— We want to strengthen the land border, and the sea border.

With men and barbed wire?

- With all the means provided.

(Emmanuelle Stoesser)

  1. The government speaks of 4000 returns in four years

Face-to-face interview, in Athens, on 28 January 2020, following the press conference following the signing of the agreement between Greece and EASO

All the articles from our report [Evros, gateway to Europe]

  1. The Evros River, the other gateway for refugees to Europe
  2. Turkey is pulling the strings at the EU's external borders (G. Koumoutsakos)
  3. In Greece, the number of pending asylum applications explodes
  4. The reception and treatment of refugees under the pressure of the EU-Turkey agreement
  5. EASO will double its workforce in Greece
  6. UNHCR, guardian of the right to asylum, in a balanced position
  7. For MSF, the only crisis is that of a lack of political will
  8. Sharifi G. wanted to join his sister in Germany, he was imprisoned in Greece

Emmanuelle Stroesser

A journalist for magazines and the press, Emmanuelle specializes in humanitarian issues, development, asylum and migration and human rights.