Greece to the EU: Come help stop migrant boats before they get here

ER Editor: This article suggests that on a number of practical, boots-on-the-ground levels (coastguard, government) Greece is neither happy nor co-operative with the EU on its migration stance although it did vote for the new EU migrant pact.


Rescued refugees and migrants abroad a boat in Paleochora, Crete | Costas Metaxakis/AFP via Getty Images

The appeal comes as the Greek government fights off allegations of negligence after a shipwreck killed hundreds of migrants heading for Europe from Libya. Survivors have claimed the Greek coast guard’s attempt to tow the vessel caused it to capsize, and various media accounts have shown the boat was stalled for hours before the coast guard intervened.

“These tragedies will continue to happen unless we stop departures from Libya and other places on ships that are unseaworthy,” Kairidis said. “There will, unfortunately, be cases where it will simply be impossible to always save human life.”

One solution to avoid other tragedies, Kairidis argued, is for the EU to resume “Operation Sophia,” an EU-led naval mission designed to break up smuggling routes in the Mediterranean that was officially shelved in 2020.

“We support the launch of an ‘Operation Sophia-plus’ to break up migrant smuggling routes from Libya,” Kairidis told POLITICO during his first visit to Brussels, where he met EU Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson.

“EU vessels would station in the Libyan territorial waters with the agreement of the local government, which I am hopeful will accept,” he added.

The EU has not settled on how it should respond to the Adriana shipwreck. The European Parliament on Thursday backed a non-binding resolution urging the EU to establish a Europe-wide search-and-rescue operation for migrants. But some diplomats fear this would only encourage migrant departures from North Africa and feed the business model of people smugglers.

Johansson declined to endorse this approach during a tense hearing on Wednesday.

The Greek proposal is slightly different than the Parliament proposal, however. It would essentially be aimed at blocking boats from leaving in the first place, breaking up smuggling routes through the Mediterranean in the process. But critics point out that Libya has traditionally been reluctant to let EU vessels enter its territorial waters for such efforts, and that its detention centers violate migrants’ rights.

Kairidis also defended the Greek coast guard against criticism that it ignored multiple offers of help from the EU border agency Frontex. …

The tragedy has increased pressure on Frontex chief Hans Leijtens to end the agency’s operations in Greece due to the country’s lack of cooperation.




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