Greece urges Nato to extend naval mission in the Aegean

2016-04-23 09:00
A German Navy officer scans the Aegean Sea from the bridge of the warship FGS Bonn. (Lefteris Pitarakis, AP)

A German Navy officer scans the Aegean Sea from the bridge of the warship FGS Bonn. (Lefteris Pitarakis, AP)

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Athens - Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras on Friday urged Nato to expand its anti-trafficking naval force in the Aegean, despite Turkish objections, following a meeting with alliance chief Jens Stoltenberg.

Nato began its operations to stop migrant traffickers in the Aegean Sea in March following a request by Greece, Turkey and Germany to help tackle Europe's biggest migration crisis since World War II.

"We still have a significant way to go to establish the effectiveness of the action of Nato in the Aegean, especially as regards to developing its capacity throughout the Aegean area," Tsipras told reporters.

"These obstacles stem from the unilateral positions of Turkey."

He also accused Ankara of having "intensified its activity in Greek airspace in violation of international rules".

In order for Nato to succeed in this migrant crisis, it was necessary for it "to show its credibility and its effectiveness", he said.

Nato's deployment in the Aegean is the first civilian operation of its kind for the military alliance.

More than one million people have crossed the Mediterranean since the start of 2015 including many refugees fleeing the war in Syria.

But Greece says Turkey is opposed to Nato expanding further south from the zones around the so-called hotspot islands of Lesbos and Chios, amid disputes between the two countries over maritime borders in the Aegean.

Stoltenberg reiterated that Nato intends to "stay engaged" in the Aegean, noting that traffickers are still trying to bring migrants across.

But he hailed the significant drop in the numbers reaching Greece from Turkey since a deal between the European Union and Ankara that opened the way for the return of migrants to Turkey from Greece.

Under the accord, migrants who travel to the Greek islands and whose asylum claims are rejected are being returned to Turkey in return for billions in EU aid.

The EU also promised to resettle one Syrian refugee for every Syrian taken back by Turkey, to grant visa-free travel to Turks within the border-free Schengen Zone and to reassess Ankara's stalled EU membership bid.

Read more on:    nato  |  greece  |  turkey  |  migrants

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