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NATO sends warship to Aegean Sea to monitor refugee flow

Most EU media today report that NATO will back a German, Greek and Turkish mission to monitor and combat people trafficking across the Aegean Sea between Turkey and Greece. NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg said that the mission is not about stopping or pushing back refugee boats, but about collecting critical information to counter human trafficking. “This can help prevent illegal smuggling, reduce the flow of refugees, and manage the human tragedy in a better way than we have done so far,” said Jens Stoltenberg, as quoted by Svenska Dagbladet.

NATO’s Standing Maritime Group 2, which is under German command and is comprised of five ships from different allies, will lead the operation. Three ships are being deployed immediately. The mission will bring back-up to the European border protection agency Frontex and the Turkish coast guard. Its aim is to signal to Turkish authorities a maximum of migrants boats used by smugglers, to make the journey from the Turkish coasts to Europe via the Greek islands. US defense secretary Ashton Carter earlier said that targeting the “criminal syndicate that is exploiting these poor people” would have the greatest humanitarian impact reports. According to la Stampa, Jens Stoltenberg also said that any refugees rescued by NATO would be returned to Turkey.

Cypriot media, Helsingin Sanomat and Kristelig Dagblad report that the European Commission welcomed the NATO decision. According to European Commission Spokesperson Margaritis Schinas, the Commission hopes that NATO’s intervention in the Aegean will contribute to the rescuing of people and will reinforce border controls. According to Diario de Noticias, Portugal’s former Ambassador to NATO António Martins da Cruz said that this decision is a sign of calm and aims at demonstrating that NATO is present in the area. Expert in European military affairs Nuno Pereira da Silva, according to the same article, considers that NATO’s assistance is a key element to preventing a world war as Turkey is not a European Union member.

The Estonian Defence Minister Hannes Hanso comments in Postimees that this initiative shows how fast NATO is capable of reacting to situations. Nevertheless, FAZ considers that NATO fighting against people smugglers on international waters is an “illusion.” Les Echos writes that the operation’s efficiency will depend on Turkey’s goodwill. Indeed, several EU media report that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said yesterday that his country is prepared to “open the gates” and allow hundreds of thousands of refugees to cross into Europe. According to the Daily Telegraph, he notably criticised the West’s “shameful” contribution to the crisis.

In a speech in Ankara, he said the Turkish government was being taken for “idiots” by Brussels and insisted he was “proud” of leaked minutes of a meeting with EU leaders in which he had threatened to flood the Continent with refugees. “I am proud of what I said. We have defended the rights of Turkey and the refugees. And we told them: ‘Sorry, we will open the doors and say goodbye to the migrants’,” Mr Erdoğan said. While the European Commission has attested progress to Ankara in a report, European Commissioner for Migration Dimitris Avramopoulos said that “if Turkey does not start to take action, like we agreed, it will be very, very difficult to deal with the situation,” Zeit Online writes. La Croix wonders whether this attitude reveals genuine exasperation or an attempt to up the ante, knowing that Europe has vowed to give Turkey €3 billion to improve its management of the refugee crisis.




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