Greece’s prime minister says interests align with Turkey on migration but differ on defence issues

Greece’s Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said that interests do align with Turkey when it comes to managing migration, BBC Turkish reported on Sunday. At the same time, he acknowledged differences remain on defence issues.

Speaking at the International Thessaloniki Fair, Mitsotakis said that "there are great differences of opinion" with Turkey, especially on international law. In particular, he referred to disagreements over military activities in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea, including on Greek isles located near Turkey. On this, he said he did not want unnecessary trouble with Turkey but Greece would not back down from its own security interests.

"I always favor meeting with Turkey, we should not allow unnecessary tensions," said the prime minister. "We have the power to defend our sovereign rights. We are not in a position to negotiate with anyone how to protect our borders and defend ourselves."

Under the 1921 Treaty of Lausanne that established the modern borders between Greece and Turkey, Greek owned islands off the coast of Turkey would not be militarized. However, amidst rising tensions over expansive Turkish maritime claims in the region, Greek military units on the small island of Kastellorizo went on alert after a Turkish research vessel entered the area. 

The island, known as Meis in Turkish, is located only six miles from the Turkish coast and Turkish politicians reacted negatively to the alert. They also responded with displeasure when Greece’s President Katerina Sakellaropoulou visited the island last September. 

Greece and Turkey however began resuming talks late in 2020 which resulted in an exchange of diplomatic visits. These visits, while an upgrade from the harsh rhetoric of the earlier year, were marked by bellicose exchanges that served as a reminder that tensions would not go away over night. 

Afghanistan has emerged as a point of agreement between Greece and Turkey after the United States finished its withdrawal from the country after two decades. Both fear a deluge of Afghan refugees terrified of the Taliban’s return to power, and they have each constructed border fortifications to stem the flow. 

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has bemoaned his country’s limited capacity to continue hosting refugees given the social and political pressures that stem from the four million Syrian refugees that now live on its territory. He has refused European Union propositions to serve as “Europe’s migrant warehouse”. 

For its part, Greece has rebuked the EU over its refusal to help foot the bill of its border security operations. Brussels has balked over Athens’ refusal to allow a independent monitoring authority to be established that would monitor whether Greek authorities would be engaging in controversial tactics to drive back migrants. 

Some of these methods, such as pushbacks at sea where refugees would be ushered by force back towards Turkey, have been condemned as a violation of their human rights. Mitsotakis criticised “some European countries who completely seal their borders and leave all the burden to Greece alone”.  

On August 20, Mitsotakis and Erdoğan exchanged a phone call where they shared their views on how to handle migration from Afghanistan. Four days later, it was reported that Mitsotakis said that he reached an agreement with Erdoğan on dealing with migration but did not offer details at the time.

 

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