Greece’s Migration Policy Minister Yiannis Mouzalas has defended the government’s “pragmatic” approach to the refugee crisis – and also a March 2016 deal between EU member states and Turkey for stemming flows in the Aegean – while rejecting calls from inside the ruling SYRIZA party for an open border policy.
“Despite the difficulties of [the deal], which has gray areas Europe must clarify, it is a useful agreement for Greece,” Mouzalas said in an interview with Kathimerini’s Sunday edition.
Describing the crisis as “the biggest migration and refugee wave after the Second World War,” the minister said the influx was being financed and guided by human smugglers.
“Migration and refugee flows of this magnitude have to be dealt with with agreements of this sort,” he said, adding that asylum seekers also benefit from the deal.
“It opened up a legal route to Europe through the resettlement scheme, i.e. the transfer of refugees from Turkey to Europe,” he said, conceding, however, that numbers so far have not been satisfactory.
“Rather than protesting and demanding that all of them come [to Europe], you should channel your energy into expanding this narrow legal path opened up by those ‘mean’ Europeans,” Mouzalas said. “Otherwise, you leave matters in the hands of the smugglers.”
“The view that we should welcome anyone who wishes to come to Greece and then see what happens is a view that, all else aside, is against the interests of refugees and migrants,” he argued.
Mouzalas did not wish to comment on reports last week that he had submitted his resignation to Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras after inner-party criticism over ministry policy.
“I am speaking to you right now as a government minister. That is all I have to say [on the matter],” said Mouzalas, who was recently nominated for Human Rights Commissioner at the Council of Europe, a distinction he described as “a great honor.”