FM Kotzias: Only reason to want NATO ships to leave Aegean is to stop control of refugee flows

The only reason why anyone might want the departure of NATO ships currently patrolling in the Aegean was to stop them continuing to control refugee flows, Greece’s Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias commented on Thursday.
Kotzias made the statement in a joint press conference with his Polish counterpart Witold Waszczykowski, following their meeting on Thursday morning. He was replying to a Polish journalist regarding a statement made by Turkey’s defence minister, who said that NATO ships should leave now that the Alliance’s mission in the Mediterranean had ended.

“I think that what is missing in the Turkish thought is to openly tell us how it evaluates the presence of the NATO ships in the Aegean. If they contributed to stopping refugee flows, why should they leave? The only reason why someone might want them to leave is so that there is no control. And you can interpret the world ‘control’ in all ways that it can be interpreted,” Kotzias said.

The two ministers said their talks had focused on bilateral, regional and European issues, especially the refugee crisis. They also had in-depth discussion on further developing bilateral cooperation between the Greek and Polish foreign ministries, which will celebrate the first centenary since establishing diplomatic relations in 2019. Both noted that the European Union must revert to policies of growth and enlargement, becoming a goal for all countries that want to join it.

With regard to the refugee and migration crisis, both ministers agreed that the war in Syria and other conflicts generating refugees must stop, while refugee flows must be contained to the neighbouring countries, such as Lebanon and Jordan, which must be supported. Kotzias announced that he intended to visit Lebanon with his Cypriot counterpart Ioannis Kasoulides in six days time, as a symbolic demonstration of this support.

The Greek minister said he briefed his Polish counterpart on the problems in the Eastern Mediterranean and Greece’s efforts through trilateral diplomacy in the region, as well as efforts toward a security architecture initiated through the Rhodes conference in the summer.

“We are always ready to help the development of Poland’s relations with this region, or joint actions,” he added.
Kotzias also presented Greek policy with regard to Turkey and its Balkan neighbours, through the new cross-border cooperation, as well as the Cyprus issue.

Waszczykowski agreed that wars were chiefly responsible for the refugee problem and this could not be solved without a solution in the countries the refugees came from. He also outlined his country’s proposal for “flexible solidarity”.

“We consider that every country in Europe is at a different level of development. Every country must help, of course, but in accordance with its ability,” he said. Waszczykowski was in favour of transferring refugees to regional countries, Jordan and Lebanon, while at the same time protecting EU borders.

He said Poland was prepared to take on its share of the burden and had sent warships to the Mediterranean, staff to guard the borders via the EU border agency Frontex and “participates as much as it can.”

Waszczykowski also referred to the crisis with Russia, noting that his country was preparing for the possibility of a very serious crisis between Russia and Ukraine. He said that Poland had issued almost one million visas to Ukrainian citizens last year, many of whom intended to stay permanently.

Asked about the ‘Balkan corridor’, the Polish foreign minister said that it was chiefly economic migrants rather than refugees that had been allowed through this, meaning that most of them would have to be returned to their countries. He also pointed out that forcibly distributing them among countries they did not wish to be in was not very humanitarian.

“In 21st century Europe, we cannot forcibly hold people in centres when they do not want to be there. If we allowed them to enter into Europe, they should be free to go where they want. If we cannot cope with this from the start, then we should have protected our borders from the start and not allowed it,” he pointed out.

Kotzias, on his part, said that neither Poland nor Greece were responsible for the refugee crisis or the wars in Syria, Iraq and Libya. “The big problem is that the people who waged these wars and carried out the bombings are asking us to pay the price for their bad choices,” he added. The Greek minister also pointed out that countries far richer than Greece had invited the refugees to move and they had responded to this call.