Greece's Migration Minister Notis Mitarakis has said that Greece would not "become an entry gate again for hundreds of thousands of people who try to pass through Greece to get to other countries of the European Union." Europe needed to be more open to welcome asylum seekers, he added.
Greece's Migration Minister Notis Mitarakis said on Tuesday (July 12) that the issue of migration is a "great moral dilemma of Europe", adding that his counterparts across the continent need to be more open to accept asylum seekers.
Mitarakis' comments came in the wake of a decision made by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruling that Greece violated the European Convention of Human Rights over the sinking of a migrant boat in 2014 in which 11 refugees, among them eight children, lost their lives.
The 16 applicants, 13 Afghans, two Syrians and one Palestinian, stated in their testimonies that their boat sank while being towed by a vessel of the Greek coast guard at high speed towards Turkey.
Greek authorities claimed that they were guiding the boat towards the Greek coast, as part of a rescue operation.
The Court ruled on July 8 that Greece must pay €330,000 euros for damages sustained by the applicants, €100,000 to one of the applicants, 80,000 to three of the applicants jointly, 40,000 to another of the applicants, and 10,000 to each of the remaining 11 applicants.
Allegations of pushbacks
Greek authorities have been plagued by accusations of performing illegal pushbacks on asylum seekers trying to enter the country via the Aegean Sea border with Turkey.
Earlier this month, Greece was warned by the European Union's top migration official, Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson, to stop "violent" deportations of migrants from the country, or risk losing funds. Johansson's comments followed a recent rapid rise in incidents in the Aegean Sea with the Greek coast guard having to reduce hundreds of asylum seekers attempting to enter the country on boats from the Turkish coast.
Over just one weekend, incidents involved over 1,000 migrants in total who had boarded inflatable boats on Turkish shores and tried to get into Greek territorial waters in the direction of Lesvos, Chios, Samos, Kos and Rhodes.
Greece will protect its borders, Mitarakis stresses
However, Mitarakis, who has been a central figure in Greece's migration policy planning and execution since New Democracy came to power in the summer of 2019, on Tuesday reiterated that Greece would protect its borders while working within the framework of international law.
"The right of each member state to protect its borders is clear and this means not allowing illegal entries either at land or sea borders, and this is what we do on the Evros [land] border and at sea; this is a given and we will continue to do so," Mitarakis said in an interview with Greek radio station Real FM.
He added: "We are not going to become an entry gate again for hundreds of thousands of people who try to pass through Greece to get to other countries of the European Union. There is a great moral dilemma. You cannot allow the smuggling rings to choose who comes to Europe," he said.
"Europe needs to open its borders in a more organized way. Europe should be more open, that's what we believe, but the smugglers cannot be the ones who make the game and ultimately choose who comes to Europe and that is the great moral dilemma of Europe."
'In the last three years, far more people have left Greece than arrived'
Despite the recent rise of migration reported in Greece, which was the epicenter of the migration crisis of 2015, the number of people coming in, as well as of those staying in the country, has been decreasing.
The reduction of the total number of migrant residents, especially on the islands, has been dramatic. In May, there was a reduction by 80% on last year's numbers. The number of refugees and migrants living on the islands as of May 2022 was 2,062 compared to a total of 10,289 in May 2021.
"In the last three years, far more people have left Greece than arrived," said Mitarakis of his ministry's efforts which include the introduction of stricter security measures. He added: "Estimates are for arrivals in the three years, about 80,000, and about 130,000 have left our country, so essentially in relation to 2019, in terms of immigration, there is a decongestion not only of the islands, where it is very noticeable, but also of mainland Greece."