NATO forces launched a mission earlier this month to patrol the Aegean sea between Greece and Turkey to look for boats used to smuggle migrants onto Greek islands earlier this month. While the NATO ships have successfully rescued many migrants off the coast of Turkey, the government in Athens say the Turks are flat out refusing to take back any migrants found at sea.
According to Der Spiegel, the Athens Foreign ministry confirmed what Greek paper Ta Nea wrote, that the Turkish government refused to acknowledge that there was any agreement made between them, NATO or the European Union to take back any migrants who leave the country for the EU – despite pledges of billions of euros, a fast track for Turkey’s EU membership, and immediate visa liberalisation between the Muslim country and EU member states.
According to Ankara, the NATO alliance determined that the responsibility for the migrants is on Greece as they were all rescued in Greek territorial waters. The waters between Greece and Turkey have been in dispute since the 1970s with the tension between the two countries almost leading to military conflict in both 1987 and 1996. The unclear boundary allows Turkey to claim the waters are in fact Greek and push the burden of caring for the migrants onto the Greek government almost as soon as migrants enter the Aegean.
German Federal Defence minister Ursula von Der Leyen made a comment two weeks ago that the Turkish government was refusing to take back any migrants and would immediately expel any who returned, even if they were rescued by NATO forces.
Turkey has also announced that while it is a member of the NATO alliance it sees the potential militarisation of the Aegean as a concerning issue.
The Erdogan regime is calling for a demilitarisation of the sea to avoid tensions between Greece and Turkey which are on a constant simmer due to the unresolved issues of the territorial waters and the matter of Cyprus. The NATO vessels in question are said to operate in international waters between the Greek islands and mainland Turkey and and not under Greek leadership but rather German.
Although February has notoriously bad weather in the region, the migrant numbers have continued to gain pace. Since the beginning of the year 94,269 people have crossed the sea from Turkey into Greece according to the United Nations. The start of the migrant crisis which prompted the Greek government to to commandeer ferries to transport migrants saw only 31,318 migrants cross the border in June of 2015. The Greek coastguard told media that they had rescued more than 1600 migrants in the last 72 hours alone from the region in the eastern part of the Aegean.
The Greek government has been forced into a precarious situation after Macedonia closed its border trapping thousands of migrants in the country with no where to go and a government in dire financial crisis with nothing to give them leading to acts of violence by migrants who want to move on to greener economic pastures.