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Greece wants the EU to stop migrant boats before they even arrive in Europe.
In an interview with POLITICO, Greece’s new Migration Minister Dimitris Kairidis called on the EU to resume an operation to stop migrants before leaving Libya, a common departure point for asylum seekers coming to Libya. Europe.
The appeal comes as the Greek government battles allegations of negligence after a shipwreck killed hundreds of migrants heading to Europe from Libya. Survivors claimed that the Greek coastguard’s attempt to tow the vessel caused it to capsize, and various media outlets showed the boat was stuck for hours before the coastguard intervened.
“These tragedies will continue to happen unless we stop departures from Libya and other places on ships that are not seaworthy,” Kairidis said. “There will, unfortunately, be cases where it is simply impossible to always save human lives. »
One solution to avoid further 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 suspended 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 with the EU Home Affairs Commissioner. , Ylva Johansson.
“EU ships would be stationed in Libyan territorial waters with the agreement of the local government, which I hope will accept it,” he added.
The EU has not decided how it should react to the sinking of the Adriana. The European Parliament on Thursday backed a non-binding resolution urging the EU to set up a Europe-wide search and rescue operation for migrants. But some diplomats fear that this will only encourage the departure of migrants from North Africa and feed the economic model of smugglers.
Johansson declined to endorse that approach during a tense hearing on Wednesday.
The Greek proposal is however slightly different from the Parliament’s proposal. It would essentially aim to prevent the boats from leaving in the first place, thus interrupting the smuggling routes across the Mediterranean. But critics point out that Libya has traditionally been reluctant to let EU ships enter its territorial waters for such efforts, and that its detention centers violate migrants’ rights.
Kairidis also defended the Greek coastguard against criticism that it ignored multiple offers of help from the European border agency Frontex.
The minister stressed that the Greek coastguard has rescued thousands of migrants in recent years, and he referred any judgment on its recent actions to an ongoing national inquiry.
“If someone is found guilty, there will be consequences,” he said. “But at the moment we should not give in to political pressure. »
Kairidis rejected testimonies from survivors accusing Greek authorities of towing the migrant ship and ultimately capsizing it. He stressed that these statements “do not constitute definitive proof” and that the trawler could not have been towed without the consent of those on board.
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.
But Kairidis warned that such a move would be “totally counterproductive”, as the agency’s work “is of paramount importance in saving more lives”.
Separately, the minister defended the Greek government against accusations that it is taking an intransigent approach to migration on an equal footing with Hungarian and Polish far-right leaders Viktor Orbán and Mateusz Morawiecki. Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, a center-right conservative, recently won a resounding re-election.
“Mitsotakis is not Orbán,” Kairidis said. “Hungary and Poland don’t want Frontex, and they voted against the migration and asylum pact” – a reference to the EU’s recent agreement to overhaul the way it processes and redistributes migrants.
“We have been the pivotal state to push the pact across the line,” he added.
Kairidis said the far right and far left are simply weaponizing migration to “destroy the political center, embodied by (French President Emmanuel) Macron and Mitsotakis.