Greece wants the EU to stop migrant boats before they reach Europe.
In an interview with POLITICO, Greece’s new migration minister, Dimitris Kairidis, called on the EU to restart efforts aimed at stopping migrants from leaving Libya, which is where asylum seekers come to Europe.
The request comes as the Greek government faces accusations of negligence after a train crash that killed hundreds of European migrants from Libya. Survivors said the attempt by the Greek coast guard caused the ship to capsize, and various media story indicated that the boat was docked for several hours before the coast guard intervened.
“These dangers will continue to happen unless we stop leaving Libya and other places on ships that don’t work,” Kairidis said. “Unfortunately, there will be times when it may not always be possible to save someone’s life.”
One way to avoid further problems, Mr. Kairidis argued, is for the EU to resume “Operation Sophia,” an EU-led naval operation designed to destroy people-smuggling routes in the Mediterranean that was officially suspended in 2020.
“We are supporting the launch of ‘Operation Sophia-plus’ to stop the smuggling of migrants to Libya,” Kairidis told POLITICO during his first visit to Brussels, where he met with EU Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson.
“EU ships can be stationed in Libyan waters with the agreement of the local government, which I believe they will accept,” he added.
The EU has not yet decided how it should respond to the sinking of the Adriana. European Parliament on Thursday supported the non-binding resolution encourage the EU to establish a search and rescue operation for refugees in Europe. But some diplomats fear this will only encourage more North African migrants and feed the smuggling business model.
Johansson he refused agreeing to this approach in a difficult case on Wednesday.
The Greek opinion is slightly different from the opinion of the Parliament, however. Its purpose was to block boats from leaving, and to break human smuggling routes across the Mediterranean. But critics point out that Libya has traditionally refused to allow EU ships to enter its territory to do so, and that the blockade violates migrants’ rights.
Kairidis also defended the Greek coast guard against accusations that it had ignored several offers from the EU agency Frontex.
The ministry said Greece’s coast guard has rescued thousands of people in recent years, and suspended any judgment on their recent actions amid ongoing investigations in the country.
“If someone is found guilty, there will be consequences,” he said. “But at this point we must not bow to political pressure.”
Kairidis pushed back testimonies from survivors accusing the Greek authorities of towing the ship and ultimately causing it to sink. He said that this statement “is not conclusive evidence,” and that a ship could not be towed without the consent of those on board.
The tragedy has increased the pressure on Frontex chief Hans Leijtens terminate the activities of the organization in Greece due to the lack of cooperation in the country.
But Kairidis warned that such a move “could be counterproductive,” because the agency’s work “is very important to save many lives.”
Separately, the minister defended the Greek government by pretending that it was taking a tougher approach to migration in line with Hungarian and Polish right-wing leaders Viktor Orbán and Mateusz Morawiecki. Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, a far-right activist, recently he won an impressive election victory.
“Mitsotakis is not Orbán,” Kairidis said. “Hungary and Poland do not want Frontex, and they voted against the migration and security agreement” – meaning the EU. recent agreement reforming the way it operates and redistributing migrants.
“We have become a revolutionary country to end this agreement,” he added.
Kairidis said that the right and the left are just weapons to “destroy the political environment, combined with [French President Emmanuel] Macron and Mitsotakis.”