Greek Prime Minister: Migrants and asylum seekers must not be used as ‘pawns’

Kyriakos Mitsotakis made the remarks alongside several EU leaders who were visiting Greece's border with Turkey to assess the new crisis over refugees and migrants trying to enter the EU.
Left to right: Charles Michel, Kyriakos Mitsotakis and Ursulva von der Leyen | Photo credit: PA

By Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at the Parliament Magazine

06 Mar 2020

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis says he will “never tire” of reminding people that “the borders of Greece are also the borders of Europe.”

Speaking at a press conference on the Greek-Turkish border, the scene of clashes between Greek soldiers and migrants in recent days, Mitsotakis said that while he does not want to see migrants or asylum seekers “being used as pawns in a game”, countries need to protect and manage their borders and limit illegal migration.

Also in attendance at the press conference, European Council President Charles Michel called on Turkey to respect a 2016 deal with the European Union in which it agreed to contain the flow of migrants to Europe in exchange for billions of euros in aid.


Several hundred migrants have crossed to Greece from Turkey by boat in recent days after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan decided to allow crossings by people seeking international protection into Greece.

Turkey is already hosting 3.7 million Syrian refugees, as well as migrants from other countries such as Afghanistan.

Michel told reporters, “By acting together we are able to show that we are able to protect our borders and show unity.”

"I do not want to see migrants or asylum seekers being used as pawns in a game in all this, but countries need to protect and manage their borders and limit illegal migration" Kyriakos Mitsotakis, Prime Minister of Greece

Further comment came from European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, who said, “These are extraordinary circumstances and Greece is facing a difficult situation. We are, though, tackling this and Frontex deserves credit for its tireless effort.”

“I would remind you that the Greek border is also a European border and I am here today to send a clear statement of solidarity with Greece. We have sent an additional 100 border guards to the area in addition to the 130 who are already there. The EU has also devoted some €700m to Greece in financial aid while another €350 million can be requested as an amending budget.”

She added, “We also must show compassion for those migrants who have been lured to try to cross into Greece by false promises.”

European Parliament President David Sassoli said, “It is important that all three Presidents of the European institutions travelled to the Greek-Turkish border today to see the conditions on the ground.”

While calling on the Turkish authorities to respect the agreement with the EU, Sassoli added, “We need to make a commitment to the thousands of unaccompanied minors who have arrived at Europe’s shores. We urgently need a strategy.”

The Strasbourg-based Council of Europe has condemned both Turkey and Greece, calling the current situation an “unprecedented humanitarian crisis.”

“Everything must be done to de-escalate violence in the border region, including by ensuring that law enforcement authorities refrain from using excessive force,” it said.

"By acting together we are able to show that we are able to protect our borders and show unity" Charles Michel, European Council President

On Wednesday, Greek police fired tear gas and stun grenades to repulse a push by migrants to cross its land border from Turkey after Ankara said the frontier with Europe was open to whoever wanted to cross.

Turkey made good on a threat to open its borders and allow migrants into Europe last week. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s action triggered days of clashes and chaos at the land border, where thousands of migrants and refugees have gathered.

Hundreds more have headed to Greek islands from the nearby Turkish coast in dinghies. One child died when the rubber dinghy he was in capsized off the coast of the Greek island of Lesbos earlier this week.

In a statement, the EPP group in the European parliament said, “We strongly support the Greek and Bulgarian governments in their efforts to maintain order at their borders with Turkey.”

“Europe will never allow itself to be blackmailed. Erdoğan is playing with the lives of people. The announcement made by the Turkish President that the border to Europe is now open is irresponsible and reckless”, added EPP leader Manfred Weber.

In a statement, the left wing GUE/NGL group said, “The situation is critical and it requires an urgent EU response - one based on equal sharing of all responsibilities amongst all EU Member States. Concrete solutions to ensure the safety of people arriving, and support for societies dealing with the matter, must take priority.”

"We must show compassion for those migrants who have been lured to try to cross into Greece by false promises" Ursula von der Leyen, European Commission President 

“As in 2015-2016, Greece cannot be expected to handle this situation alone, nor is this a bilateral matter between Greece and Turkey. Given the geopolitical tensions encompassing the whole region which includes both EU and non-EU Member States, this is a European responsibility,” it added.

Elsewhere, Marie De Somer, head of European Migration and Diversity programme at the Brussels-based think tank, the European Policy Centre, also responded to the escalating situation at the Greek/Bulgarian-Turkish border, saying, “This move by Erdogan is an attempt to use highly vulnerable people as political leverage. The EU should condemn this in the strongest of terms.”

“The EU and Greece have a right to protect their external borders, but their response must respect the human rights of the people concerned, many of whom have fled war and persecution. An EU-worthy response would involve identifying vulnerable refugees and resettling them to Europe, and finding a sustainable and dignified solution for others, including more financial support for their integration and better living conditions in Turkey.”

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