The press conference that followed the meeting between Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and his Dutch counterpart Mark Rutte in Athens Tuesday night became heated when a Dutch journalist accused the Greek premier of “illegal deportations” and the Dutch leader for refusing to host asylum seekers.
Called upon to pose a question, the Dutch journalist, Ingeborg Beugel, said to Mitsotakis: “When, at last, will you stop lying, lying about pushbacks, lying about what’s happening with the refugees in Greece? Please don’t insult mine, neither the intelligence of all the journalists in the world. There has been overwhelming evidence, and you keep denying, and lying. This is, like, narcissistic abuse. Why are you not honest? Why don’t you just say ‘Brussels left us alone, we waited for six years, nobody did anything, we need to relocate [refugees], they don’t do it, now I have my say and, yes, I do cruel, barbarian pushbacks.’ Why did you stop knocking on Brussels’ door for relocation? And for you, Mr. Rutte, what, according to you, are the sanctions that should be imposed on Greece, and maybe on Holland, for accepting this violation of human rights that Holland is co-responsible of (sic)? Also, many many municipalities in Holland want to take many refugees from Greece, like many minor unaccompanied children, they are ready to accept them, but this prime minister (pointing at Rutte) opposes to (sic) that. Maybe you could find an understanding and the Dutch municipalities who are so ready to unburden Greece can actually take in refugees from Greece, which his [Rutte’s] government opposes. Thank you.”
Mitsotakis responded, while trying to fend off several interruptions from Beugel: “I understand that in the Netherlands you have a culture of asking direct questions to politicians, which I very much respect. What I will not accept is that, in this office, you will insult me, or the Greek people, with accusations and expressions that are not supported by material facts when this country has been dealing with a migration crisis of unprecedented intensity, has been saving hundreds, if not thousands of people at sea. We just rescued 250 people in danger of drowning south of Crete, we are doing this every single day rescuing people at sea, while, at the same time, we are intercepting boats that come from Turkey, as we have the right to do in accordance with European regulations and waiting for the Turkish Coast Guard to come and pick them up and return them to Turkey. So, rather than putting the blame on Greece, you should put the blame on those who have been instrumentalizing migration systematically pushing people in [to a] desperate situation from a safe country, because I need to remind you that people who are in Turkey are not in danger, their life is not in danger and you should put the blame on others and not us. We have a tough, but fair, policy on migration, we have processed and given the right to protection in Greece to 50,000 people, including tens of thousands of Afghans, in accordance … Allow me. Have you visited the new camps on our islands? Have you been to Samos? … No, you have not been … Please … Look, you will not come into this building and insult me. Am I very clear on this? I am answering now and you will not interrupt me, in the same way that I listened to you very carefully. If you go to Samos, you will find an impeccable camp, with impeccable conditions, funded by EU money, with clean facilities, with playgrounds for … the children to play, no comparison to what we had in the past. This is our policy, we will stand by it, and I will not accept anyone pointing the finger to (sic) this government and accusing it of inhumane behavior.”
Rutte responded: “I am absolutely convinced that this Prime Minister and this government is applying the highest standards and the fact that they have immediately launched an investigation on the issue of the pushbacks is testimony of that. I will now go back to the situation in 2015 and 2016, when we had many people dying on the Aegean Sea trying to get from Turkey into Greece and then on to Germany, Sweden, the Netherlands etc. And I am happy that Germany, and we were holding the rotating presidency at that time, of the EU. Together us and the Turkish government we were able to negotiate the EU-Turkey Agreement, by which, indeed, Turkey is a safe country for people to stay. And Turkey, at this moment, is hosting over 3 million Syrian refugees in the south of Turkey, in camps [and] also in local communities. And what [the Greek] government is trying to do is trying to defend the outer borders of the European Union. It is one of the tasks the countries have who are lying (on the) outside, like Italy, Spain, Hungary, Slovenia, but also Poland and Greece. And there’s an extremely difficult situation. And what I don’t want again is for people to take boats [that] are not really equipped to [cross] the Mediterranean or to [cross] the Aegean Sea (and) to die in those circumstances. I want them to stay there, to be safe and then we are willing, as the European Union, to take a fair share of people from Africa, from Turkey, refugees, in line with the plans which have been devised in 2015 and 2016. So, this is my answer and I think your question has been answered.”