Greece to EU: Don’t let countries use migrants as leverage

International News

FILE – In this Wednesday, March 11, 2020 file photo, a migrant stands next to their makeshift tent outside the perimeter of the overcrowded Moria refugee camp on the northeastern Aegean island of Lesbos, Greece. Since well over 1 million migrants entered the EU in 2015, most of them refugees fleeing conflict in Syria, the world’s biggest trading bloc has spent vast sums of money to help ensure that migrants no longer set out for Europe whether by arduous overland treks or dangerous sea journeys. (AP Photo/Aggelos Barai, File)

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Greece’s prime minister says Europe should be “very, very strict” when dealing with countries that he said are seeking to use migrants and refugees as a means of pressuring the European Union.

Speaking Friday during a meeting in Athens with the head of the European border agency Frontex, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis called on neighboring Turkey to do more to prevent people from attempting to cross the Greek border illegally from their shores.

Greece has been one of the most popular routes into the EU for people fleeing war and poverty in the Mideast, Africa and Asia, with most making their way from the Turkish coast to nearby Greek islands in overcrowded smugglers’ boats.

In March 2020, thousands of migrants and refugees who had been in Turkey rushed to the Greek border after Turkey announced it was opening its own borders to the EU. Chaotic scenes followed on the Greek border, and Athens temporarily suspended asylum applications.

Similar scenes played out this week in Spain’s North African enclave of Ceuta, when more than 8,000 people swam or jumped over border fences after Morocco relaxed border controls.

“It is inconceivable that migrants and refugees can be used as geopolitical pawns to put pressure on the European Union as a whole. And I think we need to be very, very strict when this happens,” Mitsotakis said after meeting with Frontex chief Fabrice Leggeri.

Greece has been accused by Turkey and refugee groups of carrying out pushbacks — summary deportations of arriving migrants without giving them the chance to apply for asylum — an accusation it strongly denies.

Mitsotakis also urged Turkey to accept nearly 1,500 people now on Greek islands whose asylum applications have been rejected, saying that would “be a very important first step to enhance our cooperation.”

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