Speech by the Minister of Migration and Asylum, Mr. Notis Mitarachi, at a press conference on the tragic incident off Chios
“As it has already been announced, 4 people lost their life yesterday’s incident off Chios.
The incident highlights the cruel reality, of the exploitation of migrants, by criminal gangs, in the Aegean Sea.
Unscrupulous smugglers, endanger lives, on heavily laden, non-navigable boats. Boats without hulls, people – even small children - without life jackets. This is the reality we face every day in the Aegean Sea. As it has already been announced, 4 people lost their life yesterday’s incident off Chios. The incident highlights the cruel reality, of the exploitation of migrants, by criminal gangs, in the Aegean Sea
According to the reports, the boat started from the Turkish coast loaded with a large number of passengers.
This fact, in combination with the adverse weather conditions, led to the detachment of the hull of the non-navigable boat, and its consequent semi-sinking. In total, 22 people were rescued by the Hellenic Coastguard 14 men - 7 women - 1 child, while 4 bodies were retrieved without carrying personal life jackets. The victims were aged 4, 11, 25, & 28 years old, according to the coroner’s report.
All the rescued migrants were transported to the port of Chios. Three remain in hospital, the others are in good health. A further number of 1 to 4 people appears to be missing. The victims of this tragic incident were coming from Somalia. Therefore, obviously not fleeing prosecution in Turkey. We have spoken about this issue before and have written to the Commission asking for their intervention. Ιn total: 15 of those rescued were from Somalia, 3 from Sudan and 4 from Eritrea, again not at risk in Turkey.
The Hellenic Police and Coast Guard are operating in a professional and resolved way on land and at sea, very often under harsh conditions and in difficult environment, for the sake of the EU as a whole.
What happened yesterday off Chios, is happening at the EU external, maritime borders and Greece's maritime borders, systematically. Smuggling networks exploit weak people and put them in danger, indifferent to their lives. The Turkish authorities can and must do more to prevent exploitation by criminal gangs at source. For which the European Union needs to offer tangible support.
Migration can be resolved only through regional and international cooperation. Having said that, these journeys should never be allowed to happen.
For us, it is as simple as that: A dinghy that never sailed off the Turkish coast results in lives that were never put in danger, principles that were never challenged. Stories that never ended with sorrow.
As the Greek Prime Minister stressed in the EU Summit last Thursday, Turkey must abide by the 2016 European Union-Turkey Joint Statement, as explicitly stated in the text of the European Council conclusions. The text expresses with absolute clarity the European Union's determination to guard its external borders.
Obviously, this is a discussion that is starting. Not all political families in The European Parliament or the Commission may have the same views on migratory flows. But in case of people:
Crossing illegally from safe countries, not attempting therefore to save their lives from conflict or prosecution and crossing in a very dangerous way with such dinghies, we should be able to agree that such acts put lives at risk.
And the EU-Turkey Joint Statement was meant to eliminate such unnecessary journeys.
Nowadays, within the Council, there has been a clear support from the Member States on Europe's external borders in their efforts to safeguard them as effectively as possible.
The message is strong and clear. No more boats in the Aegean Sea. Smugglers should not win the battle against us on the eastern borders of Greece and external borders of the EU.
Preventing loss of life should be the priority for Europe, as stated in the recent European Council conclusions.
Greece, follows a strict but fair migration policy.
We clearly provide asylum to those entitled to, but we do not want to be the gate way to Europe for smuggling networks, nor can allow smugglers to decide who will migrate to Europe.
Greece, in the course of the last two years, has been very decisive in regaining control over migration management, through a series of actions, at the top of which lies the prevention of illegal flows and the fight against the smugglers’ networks. In full respect of international law and fundamental rights. And we continue to independently investigate claims to the contrary.
This policy prioritizes dignified living conditions for seekers of international protection, with the creation of the new centers at points of entry. Samos already operates successfully, next month Leros and Kos will also be operational. Lesvos and Chios will follow in 2022.
Our policy, also, promotes channels of legal and well-organised migration. To that end we have recently welcomed 700 people at risk from Afghanistan. Demonstrating our willingness to assist people in need, but not through smugglers.
To sum up, in the dilemma between illegal migration, exploitation of human suffering, endanger of lives, on the one hand, and legal and orderly migration – including humanitarian relocations, dignified reception conditions and provision of international protection to those really in need, in line with the Geneva Convention, on the other hand, Greece’s clear and uncompromised choice is for the latter.”".