Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis on Thursday sought to send a firm message to both Turkey and the European Union about the need for a tougher and fairer response to the problem of migration.
Speaking at a meeting of the center-right European People’s Party in the Croatian capital of Zagreb, Mitsotakis called for an overhaul of the asylum-granting process and criticized EU member-states that flout the quota system designed to distribute arrivals across the bloc.
“We as Greeks have done more than our share of our duty,” Mitsotakis said, adding that “we are about to reach our limits.”
“Europe can no longer pretend that the migration issue only affects the external border member-states,” he said, describing European asylum regulations as “woefully inadequate.”
He called on Turkey to respect its agreement with the EU and dismissed Ankara’s “completely baseless accusations” of Greek pushbacks. “We continue to save hundreds of people at sea every month,” he said.
Mitsotakis also lamented the considerable increase in migrant arrivals across the Aegean from Turkey in recent months, saying that it is “unacceptable” that Ankara should exploit the crisis for international leverage.
Mitsotakis also hailed Greek diplomat Margaritis Schinas’ appointment as a new vice president of the European Commission whose portfolio will focus on migration and security, saying that reform of the asylum system and border protection should be his top two priorities.
Mitsotakis’ comments followed a war of words between Greek and Turkish diplomats.
Turkey’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hami Aksoy described Mitsotakis’ claim that Ankara is reneging on its deal with the EU as “baseless and unfortunate” and accused Greek authorities of “distortion of facts” and “manipulation of public opinion.”
Claiming that migrant crossings have dropped 94 percent since 2015 thanks to Turkey, Aksoy alleged that migrants are being pushed back by Greek authorities and suffering “inhumane treatment.”
Greek Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexandros Gennimatas responded by calling on Turkey to fully implement its deal with the EU and stop using migrants to press for concessions. “As a democratic country operating according to the rule of law, Greece does not accept instruction from anyone,” he said.