«The images of the attacks with chemical weapons in Syria were unacceptable. The use of chemical weapons is unacceptable throughout the world and cannot be justified on any account. The response by the United States, France and the United Kingdom changes things and we will see how the situation will unfold over the coming days,» EU Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship Dimitris Avramopoulos noted, in an interview to the Athens-Macedonian News Agency (ANA).
Greece lies in a privileged but sensitive geographical location, on the margins of a geopolitical arc of instability, Avramopoulos said, which is caused by «significant geopolitical reconfigurations in the wider region and is being maintained by internal and external factors.»
Referring to the refugee crisis in the region, Avramopoulos said that “ the European Commission is prepared,” asserting that the measures the EU has taken for refugee inflows, through continued and intensified efforts, “ will continue to work.” He expressed hope that things will not escalate to the point where this set of measures is at risk of breaking down.
Asked what Greece should do to protect its borders, the Commissioner pointed out that “ Greece is not alone” and that had support from all European organisations, especially the European Border and Coast Guard.
The return of the two soldiers held in Turkey to Greece would be an «important positive move» and a «good sign» that would help defuse the tension of recent days, the Commissioner added. «For the good of peace, stability and security in the region, ways must be found to normalise Greek-Turkish and Euro-Turkish relations,» he said.
In terms of the EU-Turkey agreement on migration and how that might be impacted by a rise in tension between Greece and Turkey, Avramopoulos stated that the agreement was very much in force and had survived difficult times, while adding that “ it is in the interests of Turkey and Europe to continue this agreement in the future.”
It was also necessary to continue and intensify implementation of the EU-Turkey Statement, especially with respect to returns and resettlement,» he said.
Wrapping up the interview to ANA, the commissioner noted the rise of extreme right in Europe and pointed out that the EU was built on the values of solidarity and collaboration and there was an obligation to avoid repeating dark moments of the past.
The full interview with the European Commission is given below:
ANA: Commissioner, the situation in the wider region could lead to unexpected and dangerous developments. How would that impact the refugee crisis, especially in Greece?
A: The tension in Syria, instability and escalation in the wider region worries us and concerns us on multiple levels.
The images of the attacks with chemical weapons in Syria were unacceptable. The use of chemical weapons is unacceptable throughout the world and cannot be justified on any account. The response by the United States, France and the United Kingdom changes things and we will see how the situation will unfold over the coming days.
Beyond the different geopolitical interests, I consider that it is the obligation of the international community to work for a viable political solution. The people of Syria have suffered enough – but the ongoing, years-long tension poses many dangers for the wider region and beyond. The solution must be political and viable.
Greece lies in a privileged but sensitive geographical location, on the margins of a geopolitical arc of instability. This ongoing instability is not transitory. It’s a result of significant geopolitical reconfigurations in the wider region and is being maintained by internal and external factors. Tension escalates at times, as we saw with the last escalation.
For refugee flows in particular, we, as European Commission, are prepared and by continuing and intensifying our efforts the set of measures adopted will continue to work. I would like to hope that we will not see such escalation of tension as to threaten this.
ANA: What measures are needed to deal with the situation, and what needs to be done immediately for the protection of Greece’s borders?
A: Greece is not where it was at the start of the initial great wave in the refugee crisis. Let me note that there is support from all European organisations, especially the European Border and Coast Guard, and there is ongoing analysis and evaluation of any need to strengthen that. Greece is not alone.
We must be vigilant to deal with possible changes in the operations of human traffickers.
It’s also necessary that the EU-Turkey migration agreement continues and is intensified, especially in terms of returning migrants (to Turkey) and resettling refugees from Turkey in all EU member-states, and naturally in other countries as well that host refugees.
ANA: How would the continually rising tension in Greek-Turkish relations affect the EU-Turkey agreement?
A: The EU-Turkey agreement is in full effect and has not been impacted yet even by very difficult times in the past. Let us not forget that Turkey hosts on its territory over 3.5 million refugees.
Arrivals have dropped sharply overall, although we are seeing fluctuations and we remain on guard. That’s why I stressed that we must intensify the implementation of the agreement – to send a message to human traffickers that anyone who enters irregularly will be returned.
It is generally true that EU-Turkish relations have gone through various stages during the last two years. I think it’s in Turkey’s and Europe’s interests that this agreement continues into the future.
What’s important is that the problems that have risen in relations between the two neighbouring countries be overcome the soonest possible.
I should note that great efforts have been expanded the past thirty years to bring Greece and Turkey closer to one another. To create a climate of understanding and collaboration that at one time brought positive results.
The incident with the two Greek servicemen, who entered Turkish territory by mistake, in an area without explicit signage of the borders, has occurred before and it was a matter of simple communication between two countries to resolve it. This issue has now been blown out of proportion. The return therefore of those two soldiers to their families and Greece would prove to be a significant positive act that would lead to defusing the tension of the past few days.
Shocked by the death of the Greek flight lieutenant, George Baltadoros, I would like to add my condolences to his family. As a minister of national defence, I had the opportunity to meet in person the truly national and heroic mission of Hellenic Air Force officers. They are the guardian angels of Greece. But it is also true that the less tension and more understanding there is, the fewer the opportunities for accidents. The official report has not been issued, of course, but I would say that for peace, stability and security in the region, ways must be found to normalise Greek-Turkish and EU-Turkish relations.
ANA: In light of these developments there is a rise, unfortunately, of anti-Islamic expressions that empower the extreme right in all of Europe. How can the surge of this phenomenon be managed?
A: As I’ve said before, the two crises in tandem – migration and the EU’s internal security, with terrorist attacks in Europe – had multiple repercussions. On one hand, it led EU member-states to recognise the need to apply the policy the European Commission proposed, of joint European solutions based on the principles of responsibility and solidarity, for our joint challenges.
On the other hand, these common principles of ours, on which the European endeavour is based, are being called into question. Unfortunately, we have by now become familiar with the rise of the populist and nationalist rhetoric and the repercussions it has on national elections in recent years. Racism and xenophobia are frequent phenomena.
The European Union was built on the principles of solidarity and cooperation, and on the commitment that we would not revive dark pages of our past. For these reasons, we must strengthen and deepen our collaboration, overcoming all of the past’s stereotypes with unity and trust.
That’s why we need leaders with political courage and sincerity, on all levels of government. On Thursday, I had the opportunity to visit one of the programmes housing refugees in subsidised apartments and praised those mayors who stand against populist and xenophobic speech to implement programmes whose success proves beneficial to local communities, and which reflect our country’s and Europe’s humanitarian values and civilisation.