Greece on Friday welcomed NATO’s “crucial” commitment to help stem the flow of refugees crossing the Aegean.
“Stopping the criminal gangs trafficking people at the Aegean with the help of NATO is crucial,” Defense Minister Panos Kammenos said in a televised address to parliament.
“Greece has paid a high price for the migration crisis amidst the economic crisis, higher than other European countries and countries in NATO.”
On Thursday, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said the alliance would supply ships to assist the Greek and Turkish coast guards in tackling people smugglers responsible for shipping hundreds of thousands of refugees from Turkey to EU member Greece.
Last year, more than 850,000 refugees arrived in Greece by sea. Up to Feb. 12 this year, more than 77,300 have arrived, with 320 dying during the crossing.
In January and February last year, less than 4,000 arrived in Greece by sea from Turkey.
In a joint statement with Laura Boldrini, president of the Italian parliament, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said: “This problem should be addressed by a common European policy and not weighing only or mainly on the shoulders of Greece, Italy, Germany and Sweden.”
Like Greece, Italy is a “frontline” state where refugees first arrive in the EU. Germany and Sweden have taken the greatest number of refugees since the numbers fleeing war-torn states across Africa and Asia rose sharply last year.
Greece, Turkey and Germany requested NATO assistance in the Aegean earlier in the week.
Athens, which is facing public unrest over severe austerity measures imposed by international creditors, was warned Friday to get control of the numbers of refugees crossing its borders or face border controls from its EU neighbors.
The EU gave Greece three months to fix its border controls. A report issued two weeks ago found Greece had “seriously neglected” its obligations to control the border-free Schengen zone’s external frontier.