By Spiros Sideris – Athens
Greek Shipping Minister, Miltiadis Varvitsiotis, spoke of a surge of migration flow across the maritime borders of Greece and Europe that has nothing to do with economic migration, but rather with an increase of refugees seeking shelter.
The purpose of this briefing by the Shipping Minister is the mobilisation of the international public opinion to “become aware of the heavy burden that the Greek people, the greek authorities and Coast Guard have ‘today’ on their shoulders”, as noted by Varvitsiotis.
Varvitsiotis and the leadership of the Coast Guard have given analytic details, both from the rapid rise of the phenomenon and the operational planning of Shipping Ministry to tackle it.
The minister noted that “as the Greek state we want to send two very clear messages. Firstly, we cannot let our borders become “an unfenced vineyard”. We will continue to keep guard them, we will continue to monitor incoming traffic for the protection of public safety and public health. However, he noted, “we are not going to stop trying to save every life in the sea with the figures of people trying to cross being dramatic, as well as the increasing number of search and rescue operations”.
The Shipping Minister stated, inter alia, that an additional purpose of the interview is to highlight the size of the undertaking which he said, “is funded by the Greek people in its majority, it is supported by officers of the Greek Coast Guard, the Coastal Guard, the Police, the Air Force, the Navy and Army throughout this period”, but also to highlight the degree of operational success. “This year alone, from 1/1/2014, have rescued by sea about 6,500 people, of a total number of 15,500 people who crossed the Greek sea borders”.
In regard to the European partners, Varvitsiotis said that “they have contributed significantly with the enhancement of the equipment of the Coast Guard”, but added that the daily cost of search and rescue operations, hospitality and protection of marine borders, which are not only Greek but also European, unfortunately falls on the shoulders of the Greek budget that has specific limits that have been set, in turn, by the Europeans themselves within the framework of the country’s international debt.
He stressed that with this approach of the phenomenon, the country has achieved a very large increase to the number of expulsions and deportations. “In 2014 we reached 13,500 thousand voluntary and forced expulsions and deportations, and in 2013 the grand total had risen to 26,000”, he noted and emphasized that 95% of the immigrants from Syria, did not apply for asylum in Greece, “which shows that illegal immigrants now see our country as an entry point and transit in the European Union”.
Concluding, Varvitsiotis said the goal is to strengthen the relations with the turkish authorities: “That’s why in the next few days has been scheduled a meeting between the Head of the greek coastguard with his Turkish counterpart, which will take place in Piraeus in the framework of bilateral contacts. What’s certain is that there is a good cooperation so far, at least in search and rescue incidences, which however, with increased surveillance could lead to even better results”, he concluded.