The Greek opposition is not convinced by Mitsotakis' wall in Evros/Meric
The immigration issue has recently returned to the forefront of the Greek news. In the aftermath of the tragic events experienced by Syrian migrants in Evros a few weeks ago, the Greek government was looking for solutions to deal with the influx of migrants and refugees from Turkey.
The issue of immigration concerns Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and his colleagues at a time when Greece is preparing for parliamentary elections and New Democracy's conservative government is attempting to rally its base using conservative and nationalist rhetoric. This rhetoric has left an imprint on the government's new immigration policies.
Opposition parties are harshly criticizing the Mitsotakis government for “playing the game of Recep Tayyip Erdogan's government” and “attempting to secure political benefits from the drama of people seeking a better future in Europe.”
The Greek wall in Evros/Meric
One of the new Greek government decisions causing opposition parties to react is the Mitsotakis government's decision to build a wall along the entire length of the Turkish-Greek border in Evros. The Evros/Meric border line was on the agenda of the State Council for Foreign Affairs and Defence (KYSEA) meeting last Tuesday at the Maximou Prime Minister's Residence in Athens, presided over by Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis.
The Greek government decided at this meeting to extend the wall (fence) built along the Greek-Turkish border in Evros/Meric in recent years along the entire border line, as well as to upgrade the surveillance systems. Priority for fence extension will be given to the problematic areas identified by the relevant ministries and the General Staff. In particular, the disputed areas are given priority.
According to CNN Greece, the meeting of the State Council for Foreign Affairs and Defense focused on the recent increase in the number of illegal Turkish entries through Greece's land and sea borders. The Hellenic Police and Ministry of National Defense provided an assessment of the situation.
The Greek government emphasized in its meeting statement that “Among other things, the meeting addressed the issue of increasing pressure for illegal entry into our country through both our land and sea borders. It was decided to extend the fence along the Evros River gradually, prioritizing the contentious points identified by the relevant Ministries and the General Staff.” Prior to the meeting, Government Spokesperson Yannis Ekonomou addressed Turkey's claim that “Turkey rescued 41,000 migrants that Greece left to die” and the situation at Evros.
Speaking to the Greek press, Ekonomou said of Turkey: "Everyone knows who has been exploiting people's misery to manipulate immigration for a long time. Many such incidents have occurred, and most recently, 38 migrants have been rescued in Evros. The Greek authorities pursue a strict and equitable immigration policy that protects Greece's and Europe's borders while saving lives in the Aegean and Evros."
In the same vein, Takis Theodorikakos, the Minister of Citizen Protection, accused Turkey of a “coordinated effort to prevent irregular migrants from entering the country” last Saturday. According to Theodorikakos, 1,500 illegal migrants attempted to enter the country through Evros in recent days but were turned back by Greek authorities. The attempts in the last 24 hours were made mostly in the evening said the Minister of Citizen Protection, who added that “we will not turn Greek police officers into boatmen at Evros.”
Harsh criticism of the Mitsotakis government
The opposition parties are unconvinced by the Mitsotakis government's immigration strategy and rhetoric. The opposition blasts the government for its role in the new refugee drama in Evros as well as its plans for a new Greek-Turkish border.
The MEPs Syriza. - Progressive Alliance / The Left, Kostas Arvanitis and Stelios Kouloglou in a joint statement, put forward the view that “Now that the journalistic investigation and reportage reveal all aspects of the embarrassing case of Evros and raise serious questions about the actions of the Greek authorities, the Minister of Immigration and Asylum, Notis Mitarakis resorts again to his favourite allegations about the defamation of the country”.
“The country is discredited by governments that actively disregard international law, ignoring in practice decisions of international judicial bodies, as the European Court of Human Rights and its decision of 20 July,” the opposition politicians say. For them, “Those who, through risky policies, turn the management of the refugee issue at its borders (which are also EU borders) into a subset of the Greek-Turkish disputes discredit our country. Our country is being discredited by those who, while ostensibly condemning (Turkish President Recep Tayyip) Erdogan's dirty tricks, in practice play his game by engaging in the same or similar practices. Finally, those who allow children to die at our borders dishonor our country.”
“Border protection is not ensured by fences”
In a similar vein, the Communist Party of Greece (KKE) criticized the decision to extend the border wall between Greece and Turkey. Fences do not provide border protection because they do not address the root causes of the refugee crisis, according to KKE MP, Yannis Delis.
“The problem in Evros does not fall from the sky” says Delis. According to the MP, it is the result of the EU's specific political decision to sign an agreement with Turkey, which allows Ankara to instrumentalize the refugee issue.
Pasok-Movement for Change’s spokesperson, Dimitris Mantzos approached the latest developments and the problematic management of the immigration problem by the Greek government, from a different angle. Mantzos emphasized that the issue of immigration “should not be a field of easy and toxic partisan debate.” For him, “the issue is extremely serious and touches on both national security and human rights. Every day, European and Greek humanitarianism is put to the test at our land and sea borders.”
Mantzos emphasized the significance of the government explaining how 38 refugees ended up recently on an Evros islet. “Were the Turks putting pressure on them? Has there ever been a repatriation by Greek authorities? Parliamentary oversight will resolve everything”, he added.
According to Giorgos Roumeliotis, a member of Mera25's Central Committee, “the political instrumentalization of refugees with all of these tragic consequences has been going on for years and is not the exclusive prerogative of Turkey.” The Greek government is causing an international outcry with its unprecedented callousness and inhuman attitude, leaving even its moderate voters befuddled and speechless.
“Imagine what would have happened if Greek Christians (e.g., the alleged ‘heroes’ fighting refugees at the border) had been trapped on this island and a Christian Greek mother was mourning her unborn child in the river,” Roumeliotis asks.
*Dr Nikolaos Stelgias was born in Istanbul. He is an independent researcher, writer, historian and journalist. His doctorate is in the field of the modern Turkish political system (Panteion University, 2011). His latest book “The Ailing Turkish Democracy” was published by the Cambridge Scholars Publication in 2020. Dr. Stelgias was a correspondent of the newspaper "Kathimerini (Cyprus edition)" for Turkey and the Turkish Cypriot community from 2009 to 2021. Currently, Dr. Stelgias works at the Cyprus News Agency. Dr. Stelgias publishes in Turkish news articles and analyses on Cyprus and Greece on the news website 'Duvar".