Ankara snubs migrant repatriation pact
Asked about Greek calls for the reopening of the Orthodox Seminary on the island of Halki near Istanbul, Bagis said he backed it in principle but linked it to the thorny issue of the Muslim minority in Thrace. Meanwhile, Turkey’s Culture Minister Ertugrul Gunay indicated, in an interview with the Turkish mass-circulation daily Milliyet, that Ankara was leaning toward reopening the seminary. “Both my personal and the general inclination is that the school will be opened,” Gunay was quoted as saying.
While Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis and her Turkish counterpart Ahmet Davutoglu yesterday pledged to work together on bilateral issues in their first meeting on the sidelines of an international summit on Corfu, Turkey’s Minister for European Union Affairs revealed, in an interview published in yesterday’s Kathimerini, that Ankara would not be honoring a bilateral repatriation pact with Greece.
“We refuse to become the world’s biggest refugee camp,” Egemin Bagis said, noting that bilateral pacts such as the one signed by Athens and Ankara should only be honored if similar pacts are agreed between so-called transit countries for would-be migrants, such as Turkey, and countries of origin, such as Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Bagis also reiterated Ankara’s opposition to the idea of a special partnership for Turkey with the EU. “We will accept nothing less than full membership. There is no alternative.”
Visit to Samos migrant centre
European Commission Vice-president Jacques Barrot, responsible for justice, freedom and security, on Monday paid a visit to reception facilities for illegal immigrants on the eastern Aegean island of Samos, accompanied by Interior Minister Prokopis Pavlopoulos. In statements afterwards, he acknowledged that Greek authorities faced a difficult task but also stressed Greece’s obligation to provide a refuge for immigrants arriving on its shores.
“I understand the difficulty facing the Greek government, which finds itself having to deal with an ever increasing number of migrants, as well as the obligation for Community solidarity, but also that there is an obligation on the part of the Greek government to offer refuge to the foreigners that come here,” Barrot said.
The Commissioner, upon his arrival on the island, was given a tour of the French vessel belonging to the EU Frontex agency and visited the Migrant Reception Centre on the island, where he talked with immigrants detained there.
In statements to reporters, he said that this was a more general problem that cost human lives and required cooperation with non-EU countries of origin or transit in order to be solved.
Pavlopoulos declared himself satisfied with what he had seen at the Samos centre and what the Commissioner had witnessed regarding Greece’s efforts to tackle a problem that concerned all of Europe.
“It can be understood that Greece is currently receiving the greater number of illegal immigrants. It is making huge efforts to accelerate asylum processes but, as I explained to Mr. Barrot, and as he has himself acknowledged, this does not solve the more general problem that concerns illegal immigrants who are not seeking asylum,” the minister said.
According to Pavlopoulos, coping with the economic migrants required solidarity between EU nations.
“We must carry out the agreement for migration and asylum, which means signing readmission treaties and putting pressure on countries such as Turkey to honour those agreements that exist. The solution, as Mr. Barrot will explain in Athens on Tuesday, is to look at the root of the problem, and this means that we must stamp out all this illegal trafficking of migrants that exploits human lives,” he stressed.