FERES, Greece ( Associated Press) – Greece is looking to block some 260,000 migrants from entering the country illegally in 2022 and arrest 1,500 traffickers, an official said Saturday.
Civil Defense Minister Takis Theodorikakos was speaking to ambassadors from other EU countries, as well as Switzerland and the United Kingdom, as he led them on a tour of a massive border wall in the country’s north-east.
Theodorikakos stressed to the 28 envoys that Greece’s border is also the EU’s external border.
“The task (of protecting the border) needs the support of European public opinion, the European Union and its individual constituent members,” Theodorikakos said. “It is our firm position that the Member States of first reception cannot be the only European destination” for migrants.
“There should be solidarity among the member states and proper distribution of functions…close coordination is necessary,” he said.
The opinion of the Greek minister was shared by Cypriot ambassador Kyriakos Knevezos, who spoke of the “need for understanding” of countries that do not have external borders with the EU.
UK ambassador Matthew Lodge stated that “our priority is to protect human life and dignity from those threatened by criminal trafficking networks … even though we are no longer a member of the European Union, we cooperate closely.”
Greece’s 16-foot (5-metre) high steel wall formerly facing Turkey across the Evros River – called Meryk in Turkish – currently stretches for more than 27 kilometers (17 mi), and, According to the authorities Greeks, and helps to cover a distance of 10 kilometers ( 6 miles). Greece is currently expanding the wall with another 35-kilometre (22 mi) strip, with the ultimate goal of covering most of the 192-kilometre (120 mi) border.
Greece has repeatedly accused Turkey of weaponising the plight of migrants to encourage them to cross the border to inconvenience Greece and the rest of the EU – effectively collaborating with smugglers. Turkey has accused Greece of implementing violent measures that put the migrants’ lives at risk.
Turkey, which the Cypriot ambassador called the “elephant in the room” during Saturday’s meeting, also has its own migration crisis with some 5 million refugees. European Union leaders are concerned that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is encouraging a mass exodus to the European Union, where most migrants and refugees want to go, preferably to one of the bloc’s most prosperous members.
Theodorikakos announced that Frontex, the EU border protection agency, would add an additional 400 border agents to Greece, 250 in February, to its current force of 1,800 members.
Demetris Nelas contributed to this report from Athens.