The Greek government is carefully monitoring a slight uptick in arrivals of refugees from neighboring Turkey and is alert to the possibility that any further strain on relations between Ankara and the European Union could have a detrimental impact on a deal to crack down on migration across the Aegean.
Migration Minister Yiannis Mouzalas on Wednesday rebuffed a report in Germany’s Bild tabloid which quoted him as saying that Athens wants a “plan B” to implement in the event that Turkey reneges on the EU’s migrant deal with Ankara.
“We have an influx of migrants which cannot be seen as a sign that the deal is not being honored,” Mouzalas said in a statement.
Noting that the number of migrants arriving on Greece’s Aegean islands has been oscillating between zero and around 100 a day, Mouzalas said the arrivals were down by nearly 100 percent compared to this time last year.
“Of course we are monitoring, of course we are worried, but up until now I repeat that the number of people reaching our islands is not a sign that the deal is not being honored,” he said.
The minister admitted, however, that Athens is concerned about the possible repercussions of a failed military coup in Turkey last month.
“The government has duly briefed all European institutions about the possible risks that exist following the latest developments in Turkey,” Mouzalas said.
He noted, however, that the refugee crisis is “a European problem and its solution is the responsibility of Europe,” indicating that Athens expects more support from other EU member-states both in terms of funding and in terms of accepting refugees as part of a slow-moving relocation program.
According to sources, Greek officials are using all diplomatic avenues, with both Brussels and Ankara, to avert any unpleasant surprises.
Initially, the case of eight Turkish soldiers who applied for political asylum in Greece after fleeing Turkey following last month’s failed coup had stirred fears of a straining of ties between Athens and Ankara.
However, it appears Turkey is not planning to link the affair to the management of the refugee crisis.
What Ankara has explicitly linked to the handling of the refugee crisis is its European Union accession bid.
Specifically, Turkish officials have said that they expect Brussels to grant Turkish citizens visa-free travel to the EU by October, otherwise they will refuse to honor the migrant deal.
European officials have indicated publicly that the two matters are not connected but the issue has fueled concern about the fate of the agreement and whether Europe might see a new influx of refugees later this year akin to last year’s huge wave that put huge pressure on Greece and led other EU member-states to close their borders.
The current situation is a far cry from last year’s crisis.
On Wednesday, 119 migrants arrived from Turkey, 62 on Lesvos and 57 on Chios.
The spokesman of Greece’s coordinating committee for refugees, Giorgos Kyritsis, said arrivals were very low compared to just a few months ago.
“Before the deal with the EU, the arrivals were an average of 1,500 [a day],” he said.