• Rory O'Keeffe, Koraki

Mitsotakis seeks to mislead the world

In his speech to the UN General Assembly, Kiriakos Mitsotakis stood and deliberately misled the world about his government’s atrocious behaviour towards refugees. It should not fall upon us to counter his claims, because we should be able to expect the Greek Prime Minister to tell the truth.

As he threatened he would, Greece’s Prime Minister Kiriakos Mitsotakis has insisted on stringing-out the embarrassing row between Greece and Türkiye at the UN General Assembly by answering the comments made by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan last Tuesday.

During a speech in which he criticised the Turkish government on a number of issues, Mitsotakis chose to speak about ‘migration’.

He said:

Let me also make a specific reference to the migration situation in the Aegean.

Turkiye has been instrumentalizing migrants since March 2020, when it actively encouraged and facilitated tens of thousands of desperate people to illegally cross into Greece in order to put pressure on the European Union.

We will pause here.

First of all, it is the legal right of people to travel to apply for asylum. It is simply not illegal, as Mitsotakis claims here.

Secondly, there is little evidence that in March 2020 the Turkish government ‘actively encouraged’ people to leave. There is some evidence that it helped to ‘facilitate’ this, for example by providing coaches to the Greek border. But as it is not illegal for them to travel, and it would have been illegal for the Turkish government to have prevented them leaving Türkiye. Basically, what Mitsotakis is doing is both lying about the situation – to the entire international community – and complaining that the Turkish government allowed people to get a coach, rather than having to walk to the Greek border.

Thirdly, as we have already noted, there are 3.6m Syrian people in Türkiye. Even had the Turkish government ‘actively encouraged’ people to leave (it did not, and had it done this would not have been illegal) and even if it had done so to every single Syrian refugee in Türkiye (it did not) that would still only have been an increase of 0.75 per cent of the EU population. Mitsotakis knows perfectly well that this would not have ‘put pressure on the EU’.

Fourthly, the idea that ‘Türkiye has been instrumentalising migrants since March 2020’ is a clear statement that it has been doing so consistently, starting then. It clearly has not. March 2020, even if we were to accept that the Turkish government had ‘instrumentalised’ people then – and we do not, because for the reasons already noted this is an absolutely false claim – it would still be an unacceptable distortion to pretend it ‘had been doing it since’ then.

He went on:

I want to be absolutely clear. Greece will continue to protect its borders, with full respect to fundamental rights.

It is illegal to ‘protect one’s borders’ by denying people the right to enter to apply for asylum. It is also in direct contravention of our human rights.

He continued:

Our Coast Guard has saved tens of thousands of people at sea. It did so again yesterday when we rescued more than 130 people, including many children, from two sinking boats in the Aegean.

This is interesting for a number of reasons.

First of all, it is far from clear that the number of people Mitsotakis claims have been rescued by the Greek Coastguard were in fact all people travelling to Greece from other countries: still less, from Türkiye. This may seem a small point, but he makes this claim in a specific context, and it would be good to know precisely how many people he believes have been ‘rescued’ and precisely how many he believes were hoping to apply for asylum.

Secondly, he makes absolutely no indication over which period these supposed ‘rescues’ took place.

Fortunately, we do have an idea, as we wrote about precisely this topic early this year.

Late in December 2021, Greece’s Minister of Shipping, Giannis Plakiotakis, claimed that the Greek Coastguard ‘rescued more than 29,000 ‘refugees and immigrants’ (for which we should read ‘people’).

But there are some problems with this claim.

‘Land’ arrivals cannot be counted as ‘rescues’ by the Coastguard, which means that some 25,434 men, women and children (29,001, the lowest possible value for ‘more than 29,000’, minus the 3,567 people registered as new arrivals on the Aegean Islands by the Greek government in 2021) would have been ‘rescued’, but never entered the Greek immigration and/or asylum process.

So what happened to these people?

We have to ask because we know very well that the Greek authorities have been illegally, brutally, and barbarically pushing people back from Greece since 1 March 2020, and we would have to conclude that the vast majority of the claimed ‘more than 29,000 people’ the government claims to have rescued must have been pushed back: by the very Coastguard he seeks to represent as heroic.

And if we are to look deeper into this matter, it becomes even more serous a claim.

Because if we start at 1 January 2020, the first day of the first full year from which Mitsotakis government has ruled Greece, right up to last Thursday, 22 September 2022, just 17,954 people have been registered as arriving into Greece by sea. No-one could claim (almost) 18,000 people is ‘tens of thousands’ of people.

In order to get to ‘tens of thousands’, we would have to go back to start at – at the latest – 1 July 2019, the month Nea Dimokratia took power.

That is, for it even to be possible for Mitsotakis’ claim to be true without accepting Greece had illegally pushed back tens of thousands of people, we would have to be talking about a period of more than three years and two months.

In this period, 408 people were allowed to die by the Greek Coastguard.

Of those, 120 have died in the last nine-and-a-half months.

And it may be of some interest to the international community to learn that even in therescues Mitsotakis notes, six people were killed. Mitsotakis chose not to mention that if what he says is true, it is only true over a far longer period than he implied, or his government has been operating despicably and illegally, and that hundreds of people have died in the period, who he decided not to say anything about.

The Greek Prime Minister went on:

It would be more useful for Turkiye to cooperate actively with Greece and Europe on the issue of migration rather that spreading fake news. After all, the boats carrying the same desperate people President Erdogan keeps referring to leave the Turkish coast in broad daylight.

It is quite astonishing, given everything we have noted so far, that Mitsotakis should have the sheer affrontery to accuse someone else of ‘fake news’ when it comes to people arriving into Greece.

But in fact, in direct breach of international law, and at the express demand of the Greek government and the EU, the Turkish government absolutely has been breaking international law by preventing people from reaching the EU.

If we take sea crossings alone, in 2017, the first full year of the EU-Turkey Statement, the Turkish Coastguard stopped 21,937 of the 51,645 people who tried to cross the Aegean Sea, some 42.5 per cent. In 2018, it stopped 26,679 of the 59,173 who set out: 45 per cent.

In 2019, it stopped 60,366 of the 120,092 people who tried to reach Greece: 50.3 per cent. In 2020, it stopped 19,511 of the 23,616 people who set out: 68.2 per cent. And last year, it stopped 22,657 out of 25,824 people, or 87.7 per cent.

Even if we were to factor in the enormous number of pushbacks the Greek government carries out each year (9,741 in 2020; 15,803 in 2021) the Turkish Coastguard would still have (illegally) prevented 51.9 per cent of people from crossing in 2020 and 54.4 per cent of those in 2021.

This year, the Coastguard has stopped 35,625 people from crossing, compared to just 5,282 registered as new arrivals (from 1 January to 22 September 2022). The coastguard has stopped 87.1 per cent of people who have attempted the journey, from reaching Greece.

Even including the (at least) 14,979 men, women and children the Greek government pushed back from the Aegean Islands – people the Greek government insists do not exist – the Coastguard would have prevented 63.7 per cent of the 55,886 people who attempted to reach the Islands from doing so this year.

In total, out of 336,236 people who tried to reach Greece by sea since 2017, the Turkish Coastguard has prevented 186,775, or 55.6 per cent from doing so. Considerably more than double the number of people to have arrived in Greece by sea would have done so without the (illegal) efforts of the Turkish Coastguard.

It is hard to be succinct and concise when talking about the Greek government’s claims about its record on people arriving into the country, because its members very deliberately argue on several different points, all of which require systematic debunking, because all are untrue.

But in this short statement, made to the United Nations, and therefore to every man, woman and child on Earth, the Greek Prime Minister has:

> misrepresented international law, made false claims- untrue on at least four counts – about ‘instrumentalisation’ > sought to mislead about the activities of the Greek Coastguard, including its brutal, systematic and barbaric law-breaking

> failed even to mention the enormous cost in human lives of his governments’ policies of pushbacks and closing ‘safe routes’ for people to use

> accused other people of ‘fake news’ even while trotting out his own entirely untrue and deliberately misleading statements, and

> deliberately misled people about the simple fact that the Turkish Coastguard is breaking international law for Greece and the EU, just not as much as it would like

This was a performance to the heads of governments from across the world, and as such it is deeply troubling that Mitsotakis was so willing to so blatantly mislead the sole global body for international resolution and action.

Such behaviour is to the detriment of every human being on Earth: it cannot stand.

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