Rory O'Keeffe, Koraki
Mitarachis on Hardtalk: a carnival of lies
Greece’s Migration Minister Notis Mitarachis’ appearance on the BBC show Hardtalk saw the politician openly and transparently lie to two nations’ citizens.
The BBC (UK) wanted a person to appear on its Hardtalk TV show and talk about the topic ‘has the Greek government lost the confidence of its people?’ This isn’t the easiest question to answer, and we certainly will not attempt to here.
But the government’s leader Kiriakos Mitsotakis couldn’t go, as this would have undermined his entirely false excuse for refusing to talk to the LIBE committee about his and his government’s consistent disregard for and abuse against the rule of law, and unfortunately for absolutely everyone, Notis Mitarachis, Greece’s Migration Minister, who has never once allowed a genuine truth to escape his lips, nor indeed a word of wisdom, seems to be the next best at English in the current government.
In fact, his English ‘abilities’ are of minor but still genuine importance to what he said.
So we should note. Mitarachis gained his MSc (Industrial Relations) at Oxford, albeit at Green Templeton College, not one of Oxford’s more celebrated stations, and the university is far from a specialist in industrial relations. Even so, a decent level of English must be a pre-requisite to gain a Masters from any Oxford college, in any subject.
He then studied at The American College of Greece (BSc Business Administration) where, once again, we presume at least a reasonable amount of his lectures and seminars must have been conducted in English. Finally, he worked as an investment executive in London for five years, then moved to Fidelity International – it is not clear whether he worked in the firm’s London office, but in any case it is a US company headquartered in Bermuda for, um, ‘tax reasons’ – where he worked long enough to rise from research analyst, to director of research.
That is, despite having the permanent expression of a caveman trying to get to grips with the concept of, and word (in any human language) for, ‘toast’, Mitarachis’ English must be pretty good. Not only that, he must have picked up some English (UK) idioms, having lived, learned and worked in England (regular readers will recognise the irony of that phrase in this context) for up to a decade.
We mention this because although it is far from the most important or most relevant to us part of his appearance on the show, Mitarachis told the BBC that:
‘the roads have been privatised and are working perfectly,’ despite the fact that the last time it snowed heavily in Greece, in January 2022, the roads were closed for several days, and people were stranded in their cars. The CEO of Attiki Odos, Vassileios Chalkias, was forced to resign in shame.
In the same section he claimed that:
‘Thessaloniki’s metro system is up and running.’
Now. Not only is Thessaloniki’s metro system not ‘up and running’, the construction process has lasted longer than some empires (in fairness, ‘just’ 17 years so far) and in that time the companies working on its construction have become bywords not just for incompetence and slowness, but also widely condemned as thieves, after they promised to keep all archaeological finds where they were uncovered, but have instead moved many to ‘new locations’.
Mitarachis has said: ‘of course I did not say the Thessaloniki metro was operational’, but:
a) that is absolutely what ‘up and running’ means in English
b) Mitarachis absolutely knows this, given that he spent so long living, learning and working in England (not the country of his birth, which is strange given his consistent denial of the rights of others to live, learn and work outside of their own ‘homelands’)
c) that is certainly what UK viewers watching the show at home would have understood from what he said, and
d) even if he hadn’t meant that (and he definitely did) and had perhaps meant ‘the metro in Thessaloniki is nearing completion’ (his English must be good enough to say this if this is what he had meant), he was still, effectively, lying
Because out of four examples he chose of ‘successfully privatised’ projects, two have been catastrophic failures.
Perhaps another time we will deal with the problems of privatisation (it sucks money from the economy, reduces safety, places unaccountable private businesses in charge of public assets, it’s actually always more expensive than the state running the service in question…) but the point is that here, whatever way one looks at it, in a list of four things, Mitarachis lied about two.
And all of this is to prepare the way for the actual important lies he told.
The ‘migration flow’ lies
Because Hardtalk, while in fact seldom as ‘hard’ as its name suggests, likes to present itself as a tough, uncompromising interview show.
Sadly, as happened with Mitarachis, it seldom follows up its ‘hard’ first question on any topic with anything anywhere near as ‘tough’, but of course the show asked Mitarachis, the man in charge of pushbacks, and hence responsible for hundreds of thousands of crimes – as well as many deaths, the robbery of far more than €2.8m from people exercising their legal right to seek safety, hundreds of thousands of assaults and at least tens of thousands of rapes and other sexual assaults – on the Greek borders, about pushbacks.
Here, in the words of Mitarachis’ government department, is what happened:
‘Then, discussing immigration, Mr Mitarachis looked back on Greece's policy under the governance of Nea Dimokratia, which brought a reduction in immigration flows, commenting however that Greece continues to face, to a lesser extent, immigration pressures. Characteristically, the Minister of Immigration and Asylum stated that in 2015 Greece was faced with 1 million arrivals, a figure which corresponded to 10% of the country's total population!’
So, at this astonishing and inappropriate exclamation mark, we will pause.
Because what makes both of these statements untrue is not so much what they say (though one of them is in fact untrue, even according to the government’s own declarations), but the deliberately and wildly inaccurate implications created by what he omits.
First, Nea Dimokratia has only carried out one policy directly connected with ‘immigration flows’, and it has nothing to do with arrivals, but with the number of people illegally refused access to Greece: pushbacks.
Since 1 March 2020, the Greek government has pushed back at the very least 54,545 men, women and children from the Eastern Aegean islands. Greece’s Minister of Civil Protection, Takis Theodorikakos, boasted on Saturday 20 January 2023 that in 2022, his country had prevented 260,000 people from entering Greece.
That in itself is an admission of 260,000 crimes in just one year. But it is, of course, far worse than that.
Because not only is Nea Dimokratia denying access to people seeking safe places to live, learn and work – the legal right of every human being on the planet – it is also relentlessly beating, robbing, in many cases sexually assaulting, and in several killing people who reach its borders. It is also kidnapping people within the country and forcing them from Greece to Türkiye, even when they have the legal right to be in Greece.
That is, Mitarachis has not ‘decreased migrant flows’. He has simply broken the law, with vicious barbarism, to prevent people who have reached Greece entering the country.
It is also not true that ‘1 million’ people came to Greece in 2015. The figure was in fact 861,030. This may seem a small difference, but it is in fact a difference of 13.9 per cent, more than the proportion of Greece’s population Mitarachis claims one million would have been. And he claimed this as truth not only to the UK public, but also, now, the Greek public in an official government release.
And on the ‘population proportion’, too, he is incorrect. Because one million people would have been 9.2 per cent of Greece’s 10.82m 2015 population. Again, this is a small difference. But 861,030 is in fact 7.9 per cent of Greece’s 2015 population – a population which has in fact fallen by 500,000, 4.7 per cent, since 2014.
Of course, more important to this is that almost none of those people wanted to, or indeed did, stay in Greece. At the absolute peak of its refugee population, in 2017, around 134,000 people who had claimed or were applying for asylum lived in Greece. This is just 1.2 per cent of the country’s population.
We might also note here that Mitarachis can hardly claim credit for the fact that far fewer people have tried to enter the EU from Syria since 2015-16, when the Syrian war was at its most vicious and huge numbers of people were fleeing for their lives (and we must note that the Turkish government, so often the focus of Mitarachis’ attacks, has itself broken the law to prevent Syrian people leaving both Syria and Türkiye).
The ’decent accommodation’ lie
The statement goes on:
‘At the same time, answering a question from journalist Stephen Sackur, he emphasized that Greece no longer makes the front page of the international media, as was the case with the structures in the case of Moria, offering decent living conditions to asylum seekers.’
Anyone with any knowledge at all of the situation here in Greece knows this is simply not the case.
Although Moria no longer exists – it burnt down on Wednesday 6 September 2020 because the current Greek government: Mitarachis’ government, spent more than a year allowing the camp to remain at more than four times its safe capacity, which is hardly the triumph Mitarachis implies – its direct replacement had thousands of people living in tents with no hot water throughout the winter of 2020-21, and the government is currently constructing jails on its Aegean islands for new arrivals (three – at Samos, Kos and Leros – are already in operation) and expanding its jail at Fylakia, Evros, in direct contravention of international law. This does not really constitute ‘decent living conditions’.
On the Greek mainland, despite the Greek refugee response’s ‘non-transition’ phase having started seven years ago, in March 2017, when the EU-Turkey Statement was enacted, thousands of men, women and children remain trapped in temporary mobile containers in remote ghettoes far from the main Greek population centres, while the government has also forcibly evicted around 10,000 men, women and children from apartments and other regular housing the lived in under the ESTIA II accommodation programme, forcing them either back into the ghetto camps dotted around Greece, or onto the streets.
It may be true that Greece ‘no longer makes the front pages’ but between illegally jailing new arrivals, forcing people to spend an entire winter with neither heating nor even hot water, keeping people in container-ghettoes and making them homeless, this is absolutely not because its government has ‘offered decent living conditions’ to people seeking safety. It has done the opposite, as Mitarachis well knows.
The lies about NGOs
The statement continues:
‘Responding to the NGO complaints, Mr. Mitarachis clarified that Greece cooperates with NGOs that offer humanitarian work, however, if an NGO colludes with traffickers to bring illegal immigrants to European territory, this automatically constitutes a criminal offense.’
There have been zero cases in Greece in the entirety of the refugee response in the country in which an NGO or any NGO worker has ever been found guilty of ‘trafficking’ or indeed working with traffickers.
Not only does the Greek government absolutely not ‘cooperate with NGOs’ – as a report from the UN’s Special Rapporteur on Human Rights, Mary Lawlor, is certain to state on its release on Wednesday 15 March 2023 (we will update with a link on its release) and as the EU’s Civil Liberties committee LIBE stated clearly in its most recent report on Greece this week – it abuses the legal system to not only scare them into ceasing to do their jobs, as in the case of Sean Binder, Sarah Mardini and 22 others, and Tommy Olsen of Aegean Boat Report and Panayote Dimitras of the Greek Helsinki Monitor, but also to smear all humanitarian organisations, with the implication that all are ‘engaged in trafficking’ which, we remind you, has never once been found to have happened.
This is, yet again, a lie from Mitarachis.
(Here we may note that his direct comment included the line:
‘they’re not trying to save lives, they’re trying to ensure that smugglers send people through. They are part of … some of them will be part of a network.’
We must note that there has been absolutely no evidence ever presented of a single one of these claims, and as such Mitarachis is deliberately lying when he says ‘they’re not trying to save lives’: they are; when he says: ‘they’re trying to ensure that smugglers send people through’: they are not, they are trying to ensure that people are able to exercise their right to find safety, and to save lives; ‘They are part of… some of them are part of a network’: if this were true, even of ‘some of them’, Mitarachis knows only too well that his repeated (ab)use of the law would surely have found who those people were, and convicted them. He knows this has not happened, and he knows this is because what he is saying is untrue. He is lying about ‘they… some of them’ being part of ‘a network’)
The lies about Maria
The statement finishes:
‘He also recalled the case of "little Maria" in Evros, saying that our country was portrayed by some mass media as a cold state that let a small child lose his life, while finally the specific case in which NGOs were also involved turned out to be false, while this particular child never existed.’
This is perhaps the single most despicable of all Mitarachis’ transparent untruths.
Not only is it a lie, it is a lie about a dead child.
Maria was a five-year-old girl from Syria, who was part of a group which attempted to enter Greece at least three times, and was illegally and brutally pushed back at least twice.
In the course of those pushbacks, at least one man and at least two boys drowned in the Evros river, and Maria herself died on Tuesday 9 August 2022 while the government claimed not to be able to locate the whereabouts of a group of 38 people on an islet in the Evros river, the coordinates of which journalists, NGOs and even the European Court of Human Rights shared with the Greek police and government over and over again.
In the wake of the death, it became clear that there had certainly been lies told, and that they had been told by Mitarachis.
First, it was clear that the claim the group could not be found was a lie when Mitarachis changed his story to claim that the islet they were on it was in fact ‘Turkish’ (which he could only ‘know’ if he had been able to ‘find’ it) and this meant Greek police could not carry out a rescue. In fact, the law is clear that a rescue could have been carried out. Meaning this, too, was a lie.
Then the Greek Ministry of Defence revealed that in fact the islet was ‘contested’ with Greek and Turkish areas, and that at several points in the group’s ordeal, they were in the Greek ‘section’. Another lie from Mitarachis.
At this point, without any evidence whatsoever, and in a transparent attempt to ‘keep moving’ as the government’s lies became more and more obvious, Mitarachis and Greek Prime Minister Kiriakos Mitsotakis began to claim that Maria had never existed. We must be clear here.
There is an investigation supposed to be carried out into this incident, and the Prime Minister and Migration Minister of Greece know that investigation has made no findings, which not only means that any claim made about Maria is simply untrue, but also that these two leading Greek politicians have openly and deliberately abused their positions of power to prejudice an investigation.
Mitarachis has abused his appearance on the BBC to repeat this abuse of his power.
We should also note that the survivors’ lawyer Evgenia Kouniakis reports that they have been repeatedly leaned on by the government’s employees to change their statements about what happened on the island.
And so, there we are.
Notis Mitarachis appeared on BBC show Hardtalk and treated the watching audience to a carnival of lies.
Far fewer people will read this than watched the show, but this should make you angry. It was a despicable, cynical display by a man who set out to deliberately mislead first the people of the UK, and then the people of Greece, the two nations he has been privileged to call ‘home’.
We would call for his resignation, but it simply will not happen. It is to be hoped that whatever the result of the next Greek general election, this toxic purveyor of lies will be allowed nowhere near a ministerial post.
Failing that, we must simply remember: Mitarachis is a liar. A man who has in his political career never said a true thing, nor even a wise one.