Athens says backs Turkish observers on islands
With Europe facing its worst migration crisis since World War II, Ankara and the European Union
Greece said Sunday it backs the presence of Turkish observers on its Aegean islands in a bid to speed implementation of a plan to return migrants stranded there to Turkey.
“We hope they (the Turkish observers) come to the islands... Amid the chaos there needs to be order and it would be stupid to refuse (help),” Migration Minister Yannis Mouzalas told Skai television.
With Europe facing its worst migration crisis since World War II, Ankara and the European Union agreed a plan last week to try to stem the flow of migrants and refugees.
Under the draft deal, the EU agreed to resettle, for every Syrian readmitted by Turkey from Greek islands, another Syrian from Turkey to EU member States.
The controversial plan, set to be finalized at a two-day summit in Brussels opening Thursday, is designed to eliminate incentives for migrants to come to Greece by boat.
More than 42,000 migrants and refugees are currently in Greece, including around 7,700 on Aegean islands after taking the short but perilous route from Turkey, itself hosting about 2.7 million people who have fled the war in Syria.
Athens and Ankara last week pledged to work together to implement the Turkey-EU plan, even though the United Nations, several EU member states and rights groups have voiced their concerns about its legality.
The urgent need to bolster cooperation follows border closures by Greece’s Balkan neighbors which have shut off the main route to northern Europe trodden by hundreds of thousands of migrants in the last two years.
As Athens and Ankara step up cooperation, EU head Donald Tusk will hold talks Tuesday with Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades, who has voiced concern over the migrant plan.
Cypriot government spokesman Nicos Christodoulides indicated last week that Anastasiades has reservations, not least as Turkey expects the accord to accelerate its bid for EU membership and ease visa requirements in Europe’s passport Schengen area.
Ankara does not recognize the divided Mediterranean island’s internationally recognized Greek Cypriot government and Cyprus has blocked six key parts of Turkey’s negotiations for membership since 2009, effectively halting the process.
The Cyprus government insists Turkey must first meet its longstanding demands for recognition.
The island has been divided since 1974, when Turkish troops invaded its northern third in response to an Athens-inspired coup seeking union with Greece.