Greek Prime Minister Snaps About Refugees at a News Conference
(Bloomberg) -- Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis got into a public fight at a joint conference in Athens about his immigration policy and conditions on a refugee camp in the Greek island of Samos.
Standing next to Dutch leader Mark Rutte, Mitsotakis lost his cool when someone who identified herself as a journalist from Dutch media accused him of “lying” about what happens to illegal migrants arriving in Greece, often via Turkey. The usually soft-spoken Mitsotakis was visibly incensed and gave a long response that got angrier by the minute.
“What I won’t accept is that in this office you will insult me or the Greek people with accusations and expressions that aren’t supported by material facts when this country has been dealing with a migration crisis of unrepresented intensity that has been saving hundreds if not thousands people at sea,” he began, before turning to Turkey’s role.
Greece and Turkey, neighbors and NATO allies, have a fraught relationship and are at odds over a series of issues from territorial disputes in the Eastern Mediterranean to the ethnically-split island of Cyprus and refugees. The European Union and Turkey came to a financial agreement in 2016 to curb the volume of migrants coming from Syria and seeking asylum in Europe -- but it’s been a problematic understanding that is holding with some difficulty.
Greece was out rescuing people at sea “every single day,” he said. “Yes, we are intercepting boats that come from Turkey as we have the right to do in accordance to European regulation and waiting for the Turkish coast guard to come and pick them up to return them to Turkey.”
His comments come at a delicate time. Europe is once again facing a potential refugee crisis with the focus now being on the bloc’s eastern frontier following the chaotic exit of NATO troops from Afghanistan. Polish troops used tear gas Monday to prevent people trying to cross its border via Belarus.
“Rather than putting the blame on Greece you should put the blame on those who have been instrumentalizing migration systematically, pushing people in desperate situation from a safe country, because I need to remind you that people who are in Turkey are not in danger,” Mitsotakis said. “We have a tough but a fair policy in migration.”
Things escalated when Mitsotakis turned to the conditions in Greece’s camps, often the subject of criticism in the media and by non-government organizations.
“Have you visited the new camps on our islands. Have you been to Samos?,” he said. “No you have not been to Samos. If you go to Samos you’ll find an impeccable camp, with impeccable conditions funded by EU money, with clean facilities, playgrounds, no comparison to what we had in the past.”
He finished his statement by saying “I won’t accept anyone pointing the finger to this government and accusing it of inhumane behavior.”
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