US Secretary of State for Defense Ashton Carter gives a press conference on the second day of the NATO Defense Ministers Council at alliance headquarters in Brussels, on Thursday. NATO defence ministers agreed to plan for a surveillance mission in the Aegean Sea between Turkey and Greece to help crack down on migrant smuggling operations, Carter said.
The cost of dealing with the refugee crisis in Greece this year could exceed 1 billion euros, or more than 0.5 percent of gross domestic product, Alternate Minister for Migration Policy Yiannis Mouzalas told Parliament Thursday.
His warning came as NATO confirmed that one of its rapid reaction forces would begin patrols in the Aegean aimed at tackling human traffickers who send refugees and migrants across the sea in dinghies from Turkey to Greece.
Earlier this week, Bank of Greece Governor Yannis Stournaras told MPs that the country’s central bank sees the fiscal impact of the refugee crisis at 600 million euros this year. However, Mouzalas said that his department expects it to be higher.
“We think that the expenses will surpass 1 billion euros,” he said. “The money that we have received [from the European Union] so far, but which has not been distributed yet – through no fault of ours – is enough to construct the hot spots and relocation camps and to operate them for six or seven months.”
Shipping and Island Policy Minister Theodoros Dritsas said Thursday that he expects the five hot spots, where migrants and refugees will be registered and processed, as well as the two relocation camps (one in Athens, the other in Thessaloniki) to be operational by the end of the month.
In Brussels, NATO officials confirmed that an agreement had been reached on patrols in the Aegean to track down or deter human traffickers.
“This is about helping Greece, Turkey and the European Union with stemming the flow of migrants and refugees and coping with a very demanding situation... a human tragedy,” said NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg.
Hours after the agrrement to deploy NATO’s maritime force in the Eastern Mediterranean for fighting smugglers, the vessels set sail for the Supreme Allied Commander General Philip Breedlove said the mission plan would be refined during the time they were en route.
Under the terms of the agreement, NATO will return migrants to Turkey even if they are picked up in Greek waters.