Lesvos and Evros

Following the latest tactics by Turkey to exploit the human misery of the migrant crisis for political leverage in Syria, by sending tens of thousands of migrants and refugees to its border with Greece, the Greek Parliament President Constantine Tassoulas decided to send a letter to the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly President Hendrik Daems and 45 presidents of parliaments of EU member states.

In his letter, Tassoulas calls the “sudden, mass and growing migration and refugee flows” in the east of the country “an active, grave and asymmetric threat” which is “being directed and encouraged by Turkey, which is using those that have gathered as a means to exert pressure and extort.”

His letter, he says, is prompted by the Council of Europe’s role as a shield of human rights and solidarity.

The full letter follows:

Honourable President,

As President of the Hellenic Parliament I feel it is my duty to address this letter to you, in order to bring to your attention events and practices that not only constitute human rights violations, but also a mass, unprecedented, inhumane and blatant exploitation of human misery, in an effort to ask for a quid pro quo which is out of any content of political deliberation or negotiation.

As of 27 February my country has been subject to a sudden, mass and growing migration and refugee flows, who are amassing at the eastern land and sea borders of Greece. This movement, as clearly demonstrated by all evidence, is being directed and encouraged by Turkey, which is using those that have gathered as a means to exert pressure and extort, a fact which was criticized by the extraordinary Council of Justice and Home Affairs of the EU, on 4th March. This situation constitutes an active, grave and asymmetric threat against my country’s national security. The Greek borders are also the European Union’s external borders and as such their protection safeguards the interests of all EU member states.

The Prime Minister of Greece has flatly denounced Turkey stating that, by violating the EU-Turkey Statement, Turkey, instead of preventing illegal pathways to Greece, as foreseen in the Statement that he has signed, encourages and helps tens of thousands of refugees and migrants to enter illegally. And this – as he stressed – can be proven by compelling evidence: The public statements by President Erdogan on the opening of the borders. The videos showing the free transport of thousands of people on Turkish buses, accompanied by gendarmerie. Testimonies of those who reached Evros. The messages sent by smugglers to migrants claiming that the borders were open. The fact that migrants who were trying to enter Greek territory were throwing tear gas used by the Turkish army.

All this is enough for anyone to understand this is no longer a refugee and migrant problem.

This is an asymmetric threat on the eastern borders of Greece, which are the borders of Europe. This is a direct attempt at an unlawful invasion of thousands of people, turning into a breach of our national territory, with people at the forefront who, at times, do not shy away from the blatant use of violence, in order to enter Greek territory. This is an attempt, on behalf of Turkey, to use people who are desperate in order to promote its own geopolitical agenda and divert attention away from the appalling situation in Syria. The tens of thousands of people who tried to enter Greece these past few days are not from Idlib. They have been living in Turkey for some time now and most of them speak Turkish fluently. Turkey is delivering on its threat and is trying to illegally send tens of thousands of desperate people to Greece, asking for a quid pro quo. Turkey has become an official migrant trafficker. But above all, what is taking place on the Greek borders constitutes an international political issue of the highest order and it needs to be addressed as such. We are responding to protect our borders, as well as the security of Europe as a whole, in full compliance with International and European law.

Under the present circumstances we are no longer in the framework of the international protection of refugees which is based on individual applications. In this case, one is faced with a collective and organized population movement, directed by a foreign state. It is evident that every state has the right and the obligation to protect its sovereignty and the government will uphold that right to the fullest until normal conditions have been restored at the country’s borders. For this very reason, the suspension of asylum applications is a measure that is fully necessary and reasonable, and is based on international law and the primary law of necessity, but also on the means provided by European law to take measures to protect public safety, public order and public health.

Anyone entering Greek territory unlawfully will be arrested and taken to pre-removal detention centres. Let it be noted that on 18 February the European Court of Human Rights, by a unanimous decision, accepted the mass refoulement of migrants without an examination of their files, taking into account that they entered into Spain illegally and through the use of violence, while Spain had ordered their removal.

Greece has proven its sensibility by hosting more than 100,000 people, half of whom are on islands of the Eastern Aegean. On 3 March, representatives of the European Institutions visited the besieged region. Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, said, inter alia: I thank Greece for being our European ασπίδα [aspida, English: shield]. She spoke in English, but used the word shield in Greek: Ασπίδα. In Homer’s famous epic poem the Iliad, the most impressive description is not dedicated to a person or a place but, rather, to a shield! 140 Homeric verses are dedicated to the beauty of Achilles’ shield, which was carved with imagery of the Earth and sky, the sea, the sun, the moon and instances mostly of a peaceful life. And therein lies the significance of the shield. To defend peace and security, in order to provide an environment where the invaluable human rights are protected.

I address you, as members of the Council of Europe, the modern-day shield of human rights, at a time when my country is facing an asymmetric threat, but also when thousands of our fellow humans are being instrumentalized by Turkey to achieve political or financial gains.

I am convinced that from this day forward Greece will not be alone in addressing this atrocity.

Please accept the expression of my highest consideration.

Constantine An. Tassoulas

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