Citizen Protection Minister Takis Theodorikakos met with 27 ambassadors from EU countries, from countries associated with the Schengen Treaty and from the UK and Switzerland, in Alexandroupolis, on Saturday.
To the ambassadors, the minister outlined the situation at the Greek-Turkish border in Evros, and he pointed out that the entry of some 260,000 undocumented migrants were prevented during 2022, while around 1,500 human traffickers were arrested during that time.
Some 300-400 such migrants are prevented from illegally crossing the Greek border every day, he added, and he reiterated his recent announcement that another 400 border patrol officers will be hired at Evros in 2023.
Of these, 250 take up service in February, and another 150 will do so in coming months. Currently, 1,800 border patrol officers are serving in the Evros region.
“Without the presence of these modern European border guards -who operate effectively as a deterrent- millions of migrants waiting to enter Europe would have moved to the border,” he noted.
In a statement, Theodorikakos welcomed the European ambassadors and thanked them for accepting the invitation to this meeting. Moreover, he said that they would all together visit the Greek border with Turkey, “which is a European border too.”
Continuing in his statement, the minister underlined that “the effective management of illegal migration, together with the protection of the external borders here in Evros, on the basis of International Law, are a prerequisite for the internal security of the EU and European citizens. For this reason, the efforts of the Hellenic Police authorities and the competent security forces need to be supported not only by the Greek government, but by the European Union, and its public opinion as well.”
The minister also spoke of a growing network of human traffickers who operate on what he called “a clearly political agenda, as they are blatantly directed against European institutions,” and he underlined that “their aim seems to be to overturn balances and social cohesion, and to undermine institutions and values.”
To limit illegal migration, he underlined to European diplomats, the Greek government decided to upgrade border protection measures through the implementation of the “Akritas” project which is being implemented by the Ministry of Citizen Protection.
In this context, he noted, Greece is proceeding -in the project’s first stage- with the construction of another 35 km of the Evros border fence, which currently extends to 37.5 km. The project is budgeted at 100 million euros and is fully covered under the state budget. Greece, as he noted, which bears a large burden of undocumented migration flows, attaches great significance to the aspect of security and protection of Europe’s external borders.
It is Greece’s firm position that first-reception EU member states “cannot be the final European destinations,” and that there should be solidarity between member states and a fair sharing of responsibilities.”
Additionally, “close cooperation and exchange of information between of our countries is necessary in order to effectively manage this major problem. Close coordination is crucial, as we have with neighboring countries such as Bulgaria, with whom we have excellent collaboration on the matter.”
Theodorikakos pointed out that Greece has denounced the instrumentalization of migration by Türkiye, while at the same time “has supported other states, such as Lithuania, which have been victims of a similar policy by Belarus.”
A presentation of operational parameters and actions of the Hellenic Armed Forces to deal with undocumented migration flows was also carried out by the head of the Department of Aliens & Border Protection, Major General D. Mallios.
The ambassadors were also briefed on the border fence extension and the “Akritas” project by the General Regional Police Director of North Macedonia and Thrace, Major General P. Syritoudis.
The meeting “has been crowned with success, and sends a very strong message of solidarity in Europe, one of unity and determination to protect and guard the borders of Greece with Turkey, which are also the borders of the European Union with Turkey,” stressed Theodorikakos after their visit to Poros, in the town of Feres on the Greek-Turkish border, where they viewed the specific part of the fence there.
This message, he continued, “is a strong one, a message of implementation of International Law, and I hope that Türkiye receives it as such,” he highlighted.
Cypriot Ambassador to Athens Kyriakos Kenevezos noted that the briefing was “incredibly thorough, revealing of the problem we all know, this shocking, critical humanitarian problem,” and also that the field visit to Evros “gives us the opportunity to show to our friendly partners in the European Union -the countries that are affected by this critical problem- its importance and the need for absolute solidarity and understanding.”
Kenevezos also pointed out that alongside migration’s humanitarian dimension runs “the often-parallel violation of sovereign rights, always having the ‘elephant in the room’ that many do not even see.”
British Ambassador to Athens Matthew Lodge underlined the inherent complications in the migration influx issue, and that “our priority must be the protection of human life and dignity, which is at risk from the criminal networks of traffickers.” To tackle these human traffickers “we are cooperating with Greek authorities and our friendly neighboring countries or our partners here in Europe.”