NEWS

Greek and Turk PMs strike pact on immigration

Prime Minister George Papandreou and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan yesterday promised to work more closely on tackling a relentless flow of illegal immigrants entering Greece from Turkey and discussed thorny bilateral issues, including tensions in the Aegean and the Cyprus problem. Papandreou met with Erdogan, who is visiting Greece for the second time in five months, on the sidelines of a conference about tackling climate change taking place in Vouliagmeni, south of Athens. The two men met for two-and-a-half hours on the sidelines of the conference, discussing a broad range of issues, including illegal immigration and the Aegean. The talks were also attended by Foreign Minister Dimitris Droutsas and his Turkish counterpart Ahmet Davutoglu Addressing the press after the meeting, the two premiers said they had reached an agreement on curbing the flow of illegal immigrants into Greece, which has exceeded 100,000 a year for the past two years. Papandreou said they had agreed to «reactivate» a bilateral pact foreseeing the repatriation of migrants using Turkey as a transit country to enter Greece. Greek authorities have consistently accused the Turkish side of failing to honor the pact. Another Greek demand, for a repatriation pact to be drawn up between Turkey and the European Union, appeared to have been accepted by the Turkish side. «We decided on a common initiative toward the EU… to make our cooperation more systematic and much more effective in dealing with this problem,» Erdogan said. In return for a more cooperative stance from Ankara on illegal immigration, Athens pledged to liberalize the visa process for Turkish citizens wanting to travel to Greece. Papandreou said that measure would also help boost Greece’s tourism sector, which has suffered a serious blow this year due to the impact of the country’s debt crisis. As for the more enduring, and thorny, issues regarding the delineation of the continental shelf, the ongoing transgressions of Greek air space by Turkish aircraft and the Cyprus problem, there were no breakthroughs. But Papandreou said the disputes were discussed «in a very positive atmosphere.» Although the issue of climate change was the theme of yesterday’s conference, it was rather overshadowed by bilateral political matters. Still Papandreou stressed the particular significance of the threat posed by global warming to Mediterranean countries and praised Erdogan for attending the summit. «This is proof that two neighbors can put their differences aside and face common threats,» he said.