| 27 May 2024, Monday |

Even as activists accuse country of illegal deportation, Greek PM says ‘essentially crushed’ migrant smugglers

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said his government was guarding its borders “safely and justly,” As he toured the country’s newest island migrant camp on Friday, adding that his country’s tougher maritime and land border patrols had essentially crushed illegal migrant networks.

Activists say the Greek coastguard is forcing migrants’ boats illegally back to Turkey.

“Migration flows are down 90 percent compared to 2019. I repeat, 90 percent,” Mitsotakis said during a visit to a new EU-funded migrant camp on the island of Samos.

“We have essentially crushed smuggling networks that take advantage of human pain…promising persecuted people easy entry into our homeland,” Mitsotakis said.

“This government has carried out its pledge to guard our homeland’s borders safely and justly,” he said.

Border patrols have risen since Mitsotakis became premier in 2019, and asylum processes have been sped up. Critics say this puts asylum seekers at a disadvantage, and general benefits for refugees, even those who have been granted asylum, have been slashed.

Among the many criticisms of Greece’s harsher border controls have been allegations that its coastguard is illegally forcing migrants to return to Turkey, the main departure point, on rickety ships.

Athens has consistently denied the charges, stating that saving the lives of seafarers is the coastguard’s top priority.

“No one has drowned in the Aegean this year, and I’m particularly proud of the work that my coastguard is doing in saving people at risk,” Mitsotakis said this week.

In July, the Greek migration ministry said at least seven people had drowned near Kasos island, south of the Aegean Sea.

“This needless tragedy is what happens when Turkey fails to act against the criminal gangs and prevent these perilous crossings,” the Greek ministry said at the time.

The Samos camp, designed to house 3,000 people, is part of several high-tech facilities funded by the European Union on Greek islands that saw the biggest arrivals from neighbouring Turkey during the migration crisis of 2015.

International Organization for Migration reports that about 800,000 people migrated through Greece in that period.

EU has committed 276 million euros ($323 million) to build new camps with stricter access measures on Lesbos, Chios, Samos, Leros, and Kos in the Aegean Sea.