In preparation for an illegal attack this summer on men, women and children seeking safe places to live, learn and work, the Greek government has been sharing a narrative: their arrival will be illegal, and will have been forced by Turkey.
Neither statement is true.
It will not be illegal, and it will not have been forced by Turkey.
Nor would either justify the Greek government’s planned response – to unleash its military against vulnerable men, women and children.
(This piece follows The Sound of Greece’s Summer: ‘it’s Turkey’s fault’ Part One)
Part Two: Notis Mitarachis, Minister of Migration
Greece’s Migration Minister Notis Mitarachis stepped forward on Sunday (29 May 2022) to further a narrative under which the Greek government will seek to blame its Turkish counterpart for any increase in the number of men, women and children arriving in Greece hoping to find safe, decent places to live, learn and work.
As we noted in The Sound of Greece’s Summer: ‘it’s Turkey’s fault’ Part One it is increasingly clear that the Greek government is seeking – in part because of a wider desire to portray Turkey as an ‘enemy’ and an ‘illegal actor’, but to be honest also in part because of its own abhorrence and open aggression towards men, women and children arriving in Greece from the East – to claim both that any increase in people arriving will be because Turkey has illegally forced them to do so, and that as a result, Greece will be legally justified in preventing them from entering.
Of course, neither is true. As we pointed out, it is to be expected that more people will arrive in a year where travel restrictions of all kinds have been reduced than one in which they were strictly (and in Greece’s case illegally) enforced, and as we have also pointed out, at present, Turkey is breaking international law by preventing people leaving, as a favour to the EU.
If the Turkish government ‘opens its borders’ with the EU to people seeking asylum, that is in fact directly obeying international law. Turkey does not have the capability to force people across its borders, and to claim it is doing so, has done so, or will do so is both to be incorrect and deny people their own agency. If it opens its borders, however, people will cross. At present, Turkey is a jail being used by Greece and the wider EU to hold people back.
So far, the ‘case’ for ‘Turkish malfeasance’ had been made primarily by Greece’s Minister for Civil Protection, Takis Theodorikakos.
But on Sunday, Notis Mitarachis joined the narrative.
He began by talking about extending the wall by which the Greek government hopes to break international law by denying people the right to enter Greece, before moving on to what he believes are ‘wider issues’.
He said: ‘At the moment there is tension with Turkey both in Evros and on the islands, but we have shown we can guard our borders. In 2019, we had 72,000 arrivals, last year we had only 8,500 and this year in the first four months we are at 3,900.’
Now. Mitarachis knows that ‘guarding borders’ does not apply to cases in which people arrive seeking asylum: a state’s right (and responsibility) is to ‘protect its borders’ from invasion, or incursion by an unfriendly force, but not against people seeking safety and lives.
He also knows very well that his figures are incorrect. Not only did Theodorikakos on Friday 27 May 2022 claim that 40,000 people had arrived at Greece’s borders in the first four months of this year, he said on Monday 23 May 2022, using figures generated by Mitarachis’ own ministry, that 11,000 people had in fact entered Greece of whom just 3,106 were in fact registered as arrivals.
In 2021, meanwhile, there were 15,083 illegal pushbacks at least (and as we have noted, another 25,434 people are ‘missing’ according to Greek government figures).
And his narrative, and that being adopted by the Greek government, is that ‘Turkey is to blame’ for people coming to Greece, even though Turkey does not have the power to force people into the EU, and does not need to.
Currently, the Turkish government is – illegally – holding people back from entering the EU because the EU demands that it must. If it stops doing so, it will be obeying international law.
He went on: ‘Our country is strengthening its borders in Evros. The old fence was 15km long, 25km were added during the Mitsotakis government and we are now starting to add another 80km, with funding from the Ministry of Immigration and Asylum so that there is a complete fence.’
(We should note that the government is in fact campaigning for EU cash to build this wall)
‘At the same time, the Greek port has been reinforced with offshore vessels, which have all the technology needed to be able to legally prevent attempts by illegal immigrants to enter the country.’
Effectively, Greece is spending money it could be spending on helping social cohesion, or on projects and programmes to create jobs for people living in Greece, on breaking the law. It is illegal to use a wall to prevent people from entering your country to seek safety, and it is equally illegal to use boats for the same purpose.
He added: ‘When we guard our borders, we see the opposition criticizing the security forces and the European left reproducing the Turkish propaganda about allegedly illegal deportations. Greece will always guard its borders with absolute respect for international law.’
Once again, we have now thousands of documented cases of illegal pushbacks carried out by the Greek government, along with hundreds of testimonies from people pushed back. We have seen hundreds of people killed in the process of the pushbacks.
Included in those who have documented this are newspapers and broadcasters from across the Western world, as well as the EU Commission and the United Nations, producing and relying on meticulously researched and documented reports, rather than simply the ‘European Left and Greek government’ reproducing ‘Turkish propaganda’.
We must ask once more: if the Greek government’s claim is true, the world’s major media organisations, as well as paid experts, and the planet’s major international legal and political bodies, must have conspired together to attack and undermine Greece, a small country tucked in Europe’s South-East.
If what the Greek government claims is true, it must still explain: why? Why would everyone on Earth want to attack Greece?
And, as tiring as it is to have to say it again, no-one entering a country intending to apply for asylum is an ‘illegal immigrant’.
Mitarachis knows this. He hopes that by repeating the phrase often enough, he can trick people into believing it is meaningful and true. There is a term for this. In fact, there is more than one.
In the interests of politeness, we will say Mitarachis is spouting ‘propaganda’.
Finally, he said: ‘In terms of a ‘hot summer’ [of pressure between Turkey and Greece], we have gone through such tension again and we have faced it with determination. Creating tension in the Aegean is not good for anyone, but beyond that our country knows how to face its challenges.’
Once more, the Greek government’s message now, as delivered by Mitarachis and Theodorikakos before him, is:
‘People will come, illegally.’ (it will not be illegal)
‘It is the fault of the Turkish government.’ (it is not the fault of the Turkish government)
‘We will – at least – push people back to Turkey.’ (this will be illegal).
(This 'series will conclude tomorrow, Friday 3 June 2022, with The Sound of Greece's Summer: 'It's Turkey's fault'. Part Three)