Saturday

22nd Jan 2022

Nato to help Turkey and Greece 'stem flow' of refugees

  • Nato's three Aegean-bound ships held drill with Turkish vessels in eastern Mediterranean Sea last weekend (Photo: nato.int)

Nato will “immediately” move three naval ships to the Aegean Sea to help Greek and Turkish coastguards to “stem the flow” of migrants trying to get to Europe.

Nato head Jens Stoltenberg announced the decision in Brussels on Thursday (11 January), saying it was designed to "stem illegal trafficking and illegal migration in the Aegean".

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

  • Stoltenberg: "This isn’t about stopping or pushing back refugee boats" (Photo: nato.int)

“It’ll help to stem the flow of refugees, to manage the human tragedy in better ways than we’ve able to do so far,” he said.

He declined to say whether the vessels would rescue migrants if they encountered a sinking boat.

But he said: “This isn’t about stopping or pushing back refugee boats … [We’ll] provide high-quality information to the coastguard of Turkey and the coastguard of Greece and the efforts of the European Union.”

He noted that Saceur, Nato's operational headquarters in Belgium, would instruct a "standing maritime group which is already in the region" to "move now … immediately".

The vessels, which are already in the eastern Mediterranean, consist of a German supply ship, FGS Bonn, which is in command of the operation, a Turkish frigate, TCG Barbaros, and a Canadian frigate, HMCS Fredericton.

Stoltenberg said he expected other Nato states to reinforce it “in the near future”.

He also said Nato surveillance planes would help to gather information about migrants on the Syria-Turkey land border.

The Aegean operation comes after Germany, Greece and Turkey made a surprise joint request earlier this week for Nato help.

But Stoltenberg noted that Turkish military assets would not operate in Greek maritime zones or in Greek airspace, amid the 40-year old Greek-Turkish dispute over northern Cyprus.

He said Nato would share its Aegean surveillance data with the EU’s border-control agency, Frontex, and with EU institutions more broadly.

But with the Cyprus dispute also clouding EU-Nato information exchange, the Nato chief noted that new protocols for the EU cooperation must first be put in place.

The request for Nato aid came after more than 1 million asylum seekers, most of them Syrians, came to the EU last year.

The EU had earlier asked Turkey to stop the migrants in return for €3 billion in aid and a more orderly “relocation” scheme to Europe.

But the EU still has not paid out any money and Turkey has rejected the relocation idea, while the number of people crossing from Turkey to the Greek islands is higher now than at the same time last year.

The EU launched its own naval operation last year, named Sophia, to stop people smugglers on the Libya-Italy maritime route.

But the vast majority of asylum seekers began coming via the Aegean route shortly after Sophia started work.

An EU source told EUobserver that Sophia has, in the past five months, mostly rescued migrants and brought them to EU shores instead of cracking down on smuggler groups.

"It's doing the opposite of what it was meant to do because it encourages more people to try to make the sea crossing," the source said.

Blocking Russia

Stoltenberg spoke after a meeting of Nato defence ministers, which also agreed to help the US-led anti-jihadist coalition in Syria and to post more troops to eastern Europe to deter Russian aggression.

He said so-called Awacs radar planes will help the US, which requested the Nato aid, to conduct more air strikes against Islamic State.

On Russia, he said Nato did not see any “imminent threat” that Russia would attack one of its easterly member states.

But he said its vast hike in military spending, holding of snap military drills in the Ukraine and Baltic Sea regions and its “willingness to use force to intimidate neighbours and to change borders in Europe” merit posting more troops to eastern Europe.

His comment on changing borders refers to Russia’s annexation of Crimea, a Ukrainian peninsula, two years ago.

EU: Turkey must do more to stop migrant flow

Arrivals from Turkey still higher than last year despite joint EU plan. "The Turkish authorities, if they really want, can do the job on the ground," the EU migration commissioner said.

Germany, Turkey want Nato help to police coast

Germany and Turkey want to stop people-smugglers in the Aegean Sea, as tens of thousands of new Syria refugees mass on Turkey's borders amid Assad's siege of Aleppo.

Opinion

Nato enters the migration control business

A new Nato operation in the Aegean Sea raises the question of whether stemming the flow will, in effect, mean collective expulsions that deny people the right to seek asylum, says Human Rights Watch's Bill Frelick.

News in Brief

  1. 'No embargo' on meetings with Putin, EU says
  2. Austria to fine unvaccinated people €3,600
  3. MEP: Airlines should start paying for CO2 sooner
  4. Twitter forced to disclose what it does to tackle hate speech
  5. EU watchdog calls for ban on political microtargeting
  6. MEPs adopt position on Digital Service Act
  7. Blinken delivers stark warning to Russia in Berlin
  8. Hungary's Orbán to discuss nuclear project with Putin

Feature

Covid-hit homeless find Xmas relief at Brussels food centre

The Kamiano food distribution centre in Brussels is expecting 20 people every half hour on Christmas Day. For many, Kamiano is also more than that - a support system for those made homeless or impoverished.

Top court finds Hungary and Poland broke EU rules

EU tribunal said Hungary's legislation made it "virtually impossible" to make an asylum application. Restricting access to international protection procedure is a violation of EU rules.

Latest News

  1. Lawyers threaten action over new EU gas and nuclear rules
  2. MEPs urge inclusion of abortion rights in EU charter
  3. EU orders Poland to pay €70m in fines
  4. Dutch mayors protest strict lockdown measures
  5. Macron promises strong EU borders
  6. MEPs to crackdown on digital 'Wild West'
  7. Macron calls for new security order and talks with Russia
  8. Macron's vision will hit EU Council veto buffers

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us