In recent months, the overwhelming majority of Greek citizens, despite their economic difficulties, have clearly demonstrated their solidarity to refugees. I have the feeling that everyone, authorities and citizens, have tried their best to give these people the treatment they deserve. At the top of the authorities’ goals was to protect human life and save every single soul in the Aegean Sea – an objective that has admittedly proven difficult.
At the same time many accusations have been addressed from some of the Union’s member states towards others, mainly from those with xenophobic governments. The comment of Hungary’s Prime Minister has become widely known, i.e., that if the Greeks can not guard their borders, then we are going to do it for them. Obviously, beyond his ideological obsessions, the politician in question, from a country without sea, does not understand maritime reality. In fact, it is very difficult to seal a sea border. What the coast guard could or should do in the middle of the sea? Sink boats and let people drown?
Also, recently, there was a proposal by the President of the European Commission, Mr. Juncker. According to it, in order to stop the flow of refugees, joint Greek-Turkish patrols should be carried out in the maritime areas between the two countries. The proposal was repeated last Friday, in a rather stronger wording, and with the President declaring that such an action will save lives.
This proposal, however, presents the same problem as the previous one. That is, even if Greeks and Turks patrol together, they will not accomplish anything important because at sea they can not do much… At sea, either you save human lives or you let people die. The system of blockade that Mr Juncker and other EU politicians probably have in mind is what they believe it was the one of the Cuban quarantine: a ship, using her size or power, pushes or drives the other to change course. Obviously, this tactic can not be implemented against fishing, inflatable boats, or rust buckets. What may happen is that either the larger vessel sinks the smaller or the occupants of the smaller immerse the boat in order to be rescued afterwards.
There is, however, a very simple and rational solution to face the situation, if indeed one wants to save lives: either Turkey, as required by its laws, secures its coastline and arrests traffickers or the joint Greek-Turkish patrols are carried out on the Turkish coast, in order to prevent the departure of boats. As for the transfer of refugees to the EU host countries, it can be done by air transport directly from Turkey, as it has happened a few days ago, when refugees have been flown from Greece directly to Luxembourg.
By Ilias Kouskouvelis
Ilias Kouskouvelis is Professor of International Relations at the University of Macedonia and holds the HNDGS Chair in Strategic Studies ‘Thucydides’