Defense Ministers of the North Atlantic Alliance unanimously decided the NATO involvement in the Aegean Sea in order to “assist Turkey in the refugees and migrants issue”, to “intercept smugglers moving migrants from Turkey to Greece,” – and in extended form also to Europe – and “to stem illegal trafficking and illegal migration in the Aegean.”
NATO patrols to focus on deterring human trafficking, not on stopping refugees from trying to make the journey.
The alliance will also enhance its surveillance of the Turkish-Syrian border to monitor more closely the flow of migrants.
Thursday noon, NATO General Secretary, Jens Stoltenberg, outlined the key decisions, among others as:
- reconnaissance, monitoring and surveillance of the illegal crossings in the Aegean Sea.
- the NATO Force will establish a direct link with the European Union’s border management agency Frontex.
- NATO’s Standing Maritime Group 2 which is currently deployed in the region under German command will start maritime surveillance activities without delay.
- top military commander SACEUR is now directing the Standing NATO Maritime Group to move into the Aegean without delay.
According to Greek state ERT TV, a total of 57 ships will participate in the NATO Force. The NATO fleet currently under German command consists of German, Greek, Turkish and Canadian ships.
Stoltenberg announced also that in the terms of the agreement
“Greek and Turkish armed forces will not operate in each other’s territorial waters or air space.”
This limitation of Greek and Turkish armed forces activities came after a relevant request by Greek Defense Minister Panos Kammenos due to the ongoing conflict with neighboring Turkey as Ankara keeps questioning Greek sovereignty over some islands and islets in the Aegean and the markation of the continental shelf.
Indicative for the absurd demands of Ankara was the incident on Thursday morning, when the Turkish General Staff issued a NOTAM demanding that Search & Rescue crews operating to locate the crashed helicopter of the Greek Navy should report to Turkish authorities and not to Greek. Odd! The helicopter crash on the island of Kinaros, located between the island groups of Dodecanesse and the Cyclades in the Aegean Sea and thus some 40-50 nautical miles away from the Turkish coast!
NATO military authorities have still to work out all the other technical details of the operation as soon as possible.
Stoltenberg stressed that the NATO Mission in the Aegean was “not about stopping or pushing back refugee boats,” but to “contribute critical information and surveillance to help counter human trafficking and criminal networks.”
Questions that still need answers are:
- how exactly refugees boats will be forced to return to Turkey?
- what will happen if the smugglers will not obey the NATO forces?
- will the NATO forces be also involved in Rescue activities in case the refugee boats sink?
NATO decision underlined the cooperation among the NATO forces, the Frontex and the national coastguards of Greece and Turkey.
Speaking to Greek media, Minister Kammenos stressed that it is a mission of Search & Rescue. He added that:
“the migrants who will be arrested will be taken back to Turkey.”
KTG understood Kammenos as implying that this will happen also in case the migrants will be caught in Greek territorial waters.
The NATO ministers also decided to enhance with AWACS surveillance of the Turkish-Syrian border to monitor more closely the flow of migrants.
Stoltenberg’s speech transcript here.
PS will the NATO activity stop the refugees & migrants from coming to Europe?