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NATO in the Aegean: Commander will decide deployment, rescued persons will be taken back to Turkey

It was a very difficult labor. But at the end, Turkey gave the green light for a NATO operation against smugglers. In the early hours of Thursday, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg announced the agreement reached at the level of the Military Committee with regards to details about the operational plan.

Unwilling to interfere into the Greek-Turkish borders dispute, the NATO put the decision responsibility of shoulders of the SNMG2 fleet commanders in rotating leadership. The commander will have to decide where exactly the NATO vessels will be deployed and whether in Greek and or Turkish waters. This vague sentence would create problems during the NATO Mission – but that’s an issue to be addressed ad hoc in the future.

Excerpt from NATO declaration on Standing Maritime Group 2:

  1. Our commanders will decide the area where they will be operating, in coordination with Greece and Turkey.
  2. NATO vessels can deploy in the territorial waters of Greece and Turkey.
  3. Greek and Turkish forces will not operate in each other’s territorial waters and airspace.
  4. NATO’s task is not to turn back the boats. We will provide critical information. To enable the Greek and Turkish coastguards, as well as Frontex, to do their job even more effectively.
  5. Search and Rescue:. If Allied vessels encounter people in distress at sea, they have to live up to their national responsibility to assist.
  6. In case of rescue of persons coming via Turkey, they will be taken back to Turkey.

Stoltenberg said also that the SNMG2 force “arrived in the Aegean Sea within 48 hours of the Defense Ministers’ decision” on February 16th,  and has been conducting “reconnaissance, monitoring and surveillance activities.”

So far we have not heard neither of decrease of refugees boats arriving to Greece nor from any other success of the mission. But the NATO has been operating “informally”, right?

Formally, the SNMG2 could launch its operation as of tomorrow.

Greek Defense Minister Panos Kammenos felt the need to clarify a bit on the issue and said that: “Even refugees rescued by NATO vessels in Greek territorial waters will be return back to Turkey.”

Refugees’ rescue is maybe No 4 on the NATO’s To Do List but it is of highest importance for Greece.

According to International Migration Organization, 78,000 people arrived in Greece via Turkey in 2016. After closure of the borders by FYROM, estimated 20,000 refugees and migrants have been stranded in Greece.

video: NATO SG Stoltenberg announcement

embedded by Embedded Video

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PS What Turkey received as a ‘gift’ to agree to NATO’s operational plan I cannot tell you, right now. But it was a rather “take it or leave it” threat…

NATO declaration here.

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  1. It is clearly illegal to return anyone to Turkey without legal process. It’s that simple.