heads of European institutions visit Greek-Turkish border

Leaders of the European Union’s top three institutions have sent a strong message of support to Greece in its attempts to stop tens of thousands of illegal migrants crossing into Greece from the land border with Turkish.

On Tuesday Greece’s Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis visited the border region of Evros and was accompanied by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, European Council President Charles Michel, European Parliament President David Sasolli and Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenković.

In the joint press conference after, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen thanked the Greek border guards, citizens, police and Frontex forces for their efforts, and underlined that “the Greek worries are our worries. This border is not only a Greek border but it is also a European border. And I stand here today as a European at your side. I also want to express my compassion for the migrants that have been lured through false promises into this desperate situation. We have come here today to send a very clear statement of European solidarity and support to Greece. Our first priority is making sure that order is maintained at the Greek external border, which is also a European border. I am fully committed to mobilising all the necessary operational support to the Greek authorities.”

She also announced that Frontex will develop a rapid intervention team which will include one offshore vessel, six coastal patrol boats, two helicopters, one aircraft, three thermal-vision vehicles, as well as 100 border guards to reinforce 530 Greek officers at land and sea borders. In addition, it will provide financial assistance of €700m to Greece, including €350m available immediately to upgrade infrastructure at the border.

The President of the European Council, Charles Michel, also expressed his support for Greece’s actions. “Greek borders are European borders and guarding them is very important for Greece and is crucial for the future of the European Union. Our presence here in Greece is a very strong message that we want to send to the Greek people, European citizens and the rest of the world, that ‘we are together’, because we believe that border protection is vital and it is very important to act proportionately and to show respect for human dignity and international law.”

For his part, the President of the European Parliament, David Sassoli underlined the need for a unified, common policy on migration at a European level. He also stressed that Turkey needs to hear that “we want to negotiate, to discuss things, but it must respect agreements,” and raised the issue of unaccompanied children as a critical one that needs to be addressed as well.

With clear messages to both Turkey and Europe, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis underlined that it is his “obligation to safeguard the integrity and sovereignty of my country and I will do so while it is Europe’s duty to help.”

“Turkey grossly violates the joint statement with the EU” and “has become an official migrant trafficker”, adding that this is demonstrated by evidence: “President Erdogan’s public statements that he will open the gates to Europe, videos showing free movement of thousands of people on Turkish buses, testimonies of those who arrived in Evros…”

As he went on to explain, “we are reacting to the protection of our borders but also to the security of the whole of Europe” to make sense of “what is happening at the Greek border is an international political issue of prime importance.”

Mitsotakis also sent a clear message to immigrants: “do not attempt to enter Greece illegally, you will not do so and you will take full responsibility for your choices.”

In closing, the Greek PM emphasised that “Our borders are non-negotiable.”

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