PRESS RELEASE “The EU Policies towards Migration from East Mediterranean”
Online seminar “The EU Policies towards Migration from East Mediterranean”
The first meeting of the seminar “The Eu Policies towards Migration from East Mediterranean” was held online -and via the Webex platform- on Thursday, 16 February 2023. The specific topic treated in this meeting was “Contemporary types of migration – The EU-bound migratory and refugee flows in historical context”.
Professor Yannis Valinakis, President of the Jean Monnet European Center of Excellence of the University of Athens, coordinated the meeting, while Secretary-General at the Ministry of Migration and Asylum, Mr. Patroklos Georgiadis, welcomed the participants to the seminar.
Mr. Patroklos Georgiadis then gave a historical overview of migratory flows in Europe and Greece in particular, and focused on the desire of millions of people to come to Europe, as well as on integration issues. He explained how effective border protection, in full compliance with the principles of Refugee Law, can be achieved, and stretched the need to reinforce legal passages. Last, he briefly referred to the bilateral agreement between Greece and Egypt, and to the Memorandum of Understanding between Greece and Bangladesh, both on the recruitment of seasonal workers with a temporary work permit status, to combat illegal migration.
The floor was then given to Mr. Alexandros Zavos, Chairman at the Hellenic Migration Policy Institute (IMEPO), who described the refugee and migrant movements as a dynamic and everchanging phenomenon. He referred to past refugee and migrant flows, pointing out that their management is of pan-european concern. He then stressed the particularities of each flow, by highlighting the year of 2022, when a 7.3 million individuals -according to UNHCR estimates- fled Ukraine and were recognized as refugees in Europe, enjoying the special relevant status. Furthermore, Mr. Zavos identified climate change and its impact on water resources, food security, public health and even on the very existence of certain states, to be among the root causes of migration in the future.
The third speaker, Mr. Aggelos Tramountanis, Researcher at the National Centre of Social Research, described migration as a field for exploitation by the whole political spectrum and ideologies. He presented international migratory flows from 18th century onwards, drew distinctions between the different periods of migration, and outlined the main characteristics of European movements from 1945 to 2015.
Mr. Vasilis Avdis, Lawyer, Adviser to the UNHCR Office in Greece, referred to the history, mandate and role of the UNHCR, with emphasis on landmark events that defined its history. Last, he presented statistics on forcibly displaced persons across the world, which exemplify the magnitude of the problem, as the number of these persons by mid-2022 was estimated at 103 million.
The last speaker, Mr. Giorgos Mavromatis, Assistant Professor at Harokopio University, analyzed the Geopolitics of Asylum from the asylum seekers’ perspective. He demonstrated that crises are subjective, as evidenced by drawing parallels between the refugee crisis of 2015, whose flows were considered to be very large, and the Ukrainian crisis of 2022, when there was a change of view regarding “large”, although the flows from Ukraine were considerably larger than those of 2015. Mr. Mavromatis made mention of the concerns regarding the humanitarian consequences of the Dublin Regulation, and, more specifically, of those that arise from the implementation of the “authorization criterion”.
The speakers’ presentations were followed by Q+As on the subjects treated.
The second meeting of the seminar “The Eu Policies towards Migration from East Mediterranean” was held online -and via the Webex platform- on Thursday, 23 February 2023. The specific topic treated in this meeting was “The European management of the 2015 refugee crisis”.
Mr. Ioannis Stribis, Assistant Professor at the University of the Aegean, and Scientific Director at the Jean Monnet European Center of Excellence of the University of Athens, coordinated the meeting, which started with Mr. Stribis’ presentation of the speakers to the attendees, followed by his opening remarks on the meeting’s specific topic.
The first speaker, Dr. Stephanos Vallianatos, Head of the International Relations Department of the Hellenic Foundation for Culture, began with a brief history of population movements from the Middle East, and then analyzed the phenomenon of moving populations towards European and non-European countries, such as Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan. The presentation was then centered around the root causes of migration from Syria and Iraq. In Iraq, the collapse of the Baath regime and the elimination of Saddam Hussein along with the local ethnic minorities’ support of ISIS, resulted in mass movements, which accounted for the 10% of refugees in Greece at the time. In Syria, a state that emerged after gaining independence from French colonial rule, the notions of state and allegiance to the state are weak. Dr. Vallianatos concluded with a comment on how internal and external powers’ interference in order to promote their own interests, paves the way for the heightening of tensions and the continuation of the conflict.
Ms. Zacharoula Tsirigoti, Lieutenant General of the Hellenic Police (retired), former General Inspector for Aliens and Border Protection, referred to the 2022 Ukrainian and 2015 refugee crises as the first and second biggest, respectively, since the end of World War II. Ms. Tsirigoti shed light to the connection between the rising pressure from migration, and Turkey’s unchanging strategy of instrumentalizing migration. She characterized the 2015 crisis as a humanitarian one, and identified personnel shortages and lack of facilities as the major obstacles to effectively manage it. Furthermore, mention was made of EU’s reluctance to support Greece, as well as of Turkey’s arbitrary interpretation of the 2016 EU-Turkey Joint Statement, which led to the continuation of flows, in contradiction with the Statement’s aim to put an end to them. Last, Ms. Tsirigoti said that migration is a recurring phenomenon whose management is of national interest, and not a subject for internal political confrontation.
Mr. Ioannis Karageorgopoulos, Vice Admiral of the Hellenic Coast Guard (retired), and Honorary Director of the D-G of Security and Policing, spoke about the Hellenic Coast Guard’s significant contribution in managing the 2015 crisis, despite the sudden massive inflows. Greece is a much-preferred route from East to West, because of its geographic relief and proximity with migrants and refugees’ countries of origin as well as with transit countries. The lessons learnt for the Greek state apparatus were the need to do away with cumbersome procedures, the need to avoid the substitution of Public Authorities by NGOs, the need to enact legislation on fast-track procedures for the absorption of available funds, the need to use state-of-the-art technology in border management, the need to reduce the number of asylum seekers reception centres as well as the number of pending asylum applications, and the need for fast relocation schemes.
Mr. Apostolos Veizis, Director General at Intersos Hellas, was the last to take the floor. He regretted the fact that the 2015 crisis was, in his opinion, an EU political and management crisis, in which EU failed. He focused on violence coming from within the communities, from smugglers and from Authorities. Returns, which have taken a heavy toll on human lives, and the 2014-2015 pre-emptive policies were also discussed. Mr. Veizis then referred to the gaps in provisions on primary health care, mental health, chronic conditions, distribution of basic necessities, housing and advocacy for incoming populations. Last, he discussed the differences between how Ukrainian refugees in 2022 and how refugees during the 2015 crisis were received. As regards Ukrainian refugees, the EU did not implement the Geneva Convention, but immediately granted them temporary, one-year protection, under the relevant 2001 Directive, and without prejudice to obtaining refugee status under the Geneva Convention afterwards.
In the Q+As that followed, there was a convergence of views that security was the EU’s primary concern in managing the flows (“securitization” of migration), but in compliance with Refugee Law. Striking a balance between the two is challenging, and the efforts towards that end are continuous.
The third meeting of the seminar “The Eu Policies towards Migration from East Mediterranean” was held online -and via the Webex platform- on Thursday, 2 March 2023. The specific topic treated in this meeting was “Recent developments in the management of EU-bound migratory flows – the EU Pact on Migration and Asylum”.
Mr. Ioannis Stribis, Assistant Professor at the University of the Aegean, and Scientific Director at the Jean Monnet European Center of Excellence of the University of Athens, coordinated the meeting.
The meeting was opened by Ms. Vasiliki Saranti, Expert Counsellor A at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, who delved into the EU Migration and Asylum Policy, and, more particularly, into the transition from the Common European Asylum System (CEAS) to the proposed New Pact on Migration and Asylum, whereby the European Commission introduced on 23 September 2020 a number of legislative proposals and guidelines. The decision of the European Commission and of the Council to prioritize the external dimension by pursuing cooperation with third countries -countries of origin, and transit and host countries- is a very important dimension of the Pact, because in this way the management of refugee flows can become -albeit indirectly- an integral part of the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP). Turkey and Belarus’ instrumentalization of refugees and migrants made the EU take a further step, beyond the Pact: the European Commission proposed amendments to the Schengen Borders Code. In the proposed reforms the term “instrumentalization” appears for the first time, while member states are authorized, as a measure of last resort, to reintroduce internal borders controls in case of emerging challenges.
The second speaker, Dr. Gerasimos Tsourapas, Senior Lecturer in International Relations at the University of Glasgow, explored the topic of the Diplomacy of Migration, which has two dimensions: the phenomenon of foreign policy’s “instrumentalization” of refugees and migrants, and the exact opposite phenomenon of using foreign policy in order to manage the refugee flows. One such characteristic instance of diplomacy of migration was by M. Gaddafi, who had very well realized and frequently used migrants as leverage, thus shaping his foreign policy. Similar strategies have been developed by many leaders, such as Saddam Hussein, Mohammed XI of Morocco and Alexander Lukashenko. The speaker referred also to the 2015-2016 large inflow, as well as to the staged 2021 crisis at the Evros Greek-Turkish land border. Therefore, we need to fully comprehend that the migration diplomacy’s objectives relate not only to foreign policy, but are also of financial, political and military nature. Additionally, an in-depth study of the countries of origin is necessary so as to become able to identify and effectively tackle contrived situations in the future.
The next speaker, Mr. Grigorios Apostolou, Head of the Frontex Liaison Office in Piraeus, gave an overview of Frontex from 2000 until today. In 2005 Frontex’s human resources in its Warsaw Headquarters comprised 38 individuals with no operational capacity, while today 2,000 persons are employed in the Headquarters, and another 2,000 border guards are deployed and operate across EU’s external borders. Frontex’s main responsibilities include border protection, combatting cross-border crime, returns, external border surveillance, risk analysis, international cooperation and cooperation among EU member states, training-research-innovation and safety by means of ETIAS (travel authorization for non-EU, visa-exempt citizens). Frontex’s internal monitoring mechanism for the respect and protection of Fundamental Rights has been strengthened in recent years, while the Organization’s role in both forced and voluntary returns has been upgraded.
Ms. Emmanouela Tsapouli, Senior Protection Associate, UNHCR, presented UNHCR’s standpoint in respect of the New Pact on Migration and Asylum. The issue is of vital importance for Greece, as a first-entry country, which is directly impacted by relevant developments at EU level. She detailed on the reform of arrival and entry procedures that the UNHCR forwards, as well as on the Commissioner’s concerns about certain proposed asylum procedures that are based on “legal fiction”. Legislation currently in force is problematic inasmuch there exist no well-defined criteria determining when countries are authorized to derogate from the common asylum procedure. It was furthermore reminded that the non-refoulement principle has no exceptions, including in emergency situations, when a third country instrumentalizes migrant flows. Derogations or exceptions to the common asylum system in cases of crises or force majeure, when a country is faced with massive inflow, are on the table, but the UNHCR strongly opposes the normalization and politicization of derogations from the acquis communautaire on asylum. Instead, it favours the introduction of legislation that provides for a safe and fair relocation procedure for equitable burden-sharing in support of disproportionately affected member states. The UNHCR makes concrete proposals on border procedures for asylum seekers’ relocation schemes, on condition they have already submitted a substantiated asylum application. The procedures should be based on the principles of family unification, existence of ties to a given country, and unaccompanied minors’ best interest.
The last speaker, Mr. Dimitrios Pagidas, EUAA Project Coordinator, Athens Office, presented European Union Asylum Agency’s (EUAA, former European Asylum Support Office/EASO) development, synergies and role. The Agency’s vision is the harmonization of asylum-granting practices of all EU member states. Relative Regulations and Directives are in place, but member states’ use of tools that fall under their competence, results in differentiations in asylum procedures. EUAA’s technical and operational assistance to member states aims at forwarding the harmonization of practices and the implementation of the Common European Asylum System.
Greece is the country that has most benefited from the EUAA support. It works closely with the Agency in the framework of operational support programmes. The cooperation reached its peak with the 2016 EU-Turkey Joint Statement. EUAA personnel provide support to every reception facility under the Ministry of Migration and Asylum, on islands and mainland Greece, to the Asylum Service, Reception Service and Unaccompanied Minors Secretariat. EUAA executives help local ones in the procedure of registration and interview of the applicants, and by delivering opinions. Needless to say, member states have exclusive competence in pronouncing upon each and every asylum application.
The fourth meeting of the seminar “The Eu Policies towards Migration from East Mediterranean” was held online -and via the Webex platform- on Thursday, 9 March 2023. The specific topic treated in this meeting was “EU-bound migratory flows – the role of Turkey”.
Professor Yannis Valinakis, President of the Jean Monnet European Center of Excellence of the University of Athens, coordinated the meeting.
The discussion was opened by Mr. Alexandros Mallias, Honorary Ambassador (retired), who spoke about the way in which Turkey manipulated migratory flows at the Evros border. Mr. Mallias posed two questions: what objectives does Turkey pursue by means of manipulating migrants, and how the current situation would be if Greece had reacted to Turkey’s manipulations in a different manner. The observations that followed shed light to the above issues: Firstly, Turkey favoured an open-border policy (meaning open EU borders) and withdrawal of the Hellenic Coast Guard from the Aegean Sea. Secondly, Turkey wanted Greece to stop communicating the issue and making it known to Europe. Mr. Mallias then referred to the February 2023 deadly earthquake in Turkey. Until that point in time, hostile propaganda, presentations of Greece as a threat to Turkey’s territorial integrity, questioning Greek sovereignty, and continuous violations of Greek borders were prevalent. The climate of hostility shifted with Greece’s unprecedented solidarity with hard-hit Turkey. The Greek Government’s spontaneous and humanistic response was exemplified not only in the Greek PM’s Message to suffering Turkey, and Greek Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Dendias’ visit to the country, but also in the participation of Greek Rescuers and Red Cross volunteers in life-saving operations.
The second speaker, Mr. Dimitrios Triantafillou, Professor at the Kadir Has University and at the Panteion University (awaiting appointment), explained the interrelation between internal and international developments. There is no doubt that the Turkish and other governments, e.g., Belarus, have instrumentalized migration. Greece, a responsible country that lives up to EU values, should thoroughly comprehend and take into consideration the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and the thence emerging context. Moving to the remarkable solidarity of the Greek people towards the Turkish one following the earthquake, the speaker investigated how the reinstated emotional connection can be kept alive. As a genuinely humanistic offer, the solidarity’s impact went far beyond being broadcasted, and spoke to the very hearts of the Turkish people, who were deeply moved by this helping hand. Therefore, highly effective Public Diplomacy and humanism-driven action should be promoted, regardless of which government exercises power in the neighbouring country.
Mr. Achilleas Skordas, Senior Research Fellow at the Max Planck Institute for Foreign Public Law and Public International Law, Heidelberg, described migration as one of the main phenomena that drive internationalization. Being multidimensional, it entails both opportunities and risks. He then referred to the geopolitical areas that are relevant for Greece: EU and NATO, as Greece is both an EU and NATO member; the Middle East and North Africa region (MENA); Turkey’s major area. At present, Greece should focus on how to deal with the migration crisis and Russian assertiveness. As far as Turkey is concerned, Greece should of course take into account that Turkey instrumentalizes migration, but this is just the tip of the iceberg. Therefore, it should take a comprehensive approach on how its relations with Turkey should be shaped, one that includes an in-depth analysis of each and every aspect of this manifold situation.
The last speaker of this meeting, Mr. Konstantinos Lambropoulos, Co-Chair, Athens Hub, Geneva Centre for Security Studies, presented the Turkish Hybrid Doctrine after 2016. He explained why and how mass migration becomes a strategic, hybrid tool in the hands of revisionist states. He overviewed the different types of the instrumentalization of migration, including the type used by Turkey against Greece and Cyprus. More specifically, he analyzed the 2020 Evros incident, intended to politically destabilize, exercise psychological pressure upon and coerce and handle the EU, as well as to systematically slander Greece. As we are coming closer to the Turkish elections, the speaker foresees an increased possibility that Turkey instrumentalizes migration, affecting the EU, Greece and Cyprus. Mr. Lambropoulos suggested that Greece should take a holistic approach on the issue, as part of a comprehensive National Strategy that will combine the furtherance of the national interest stricto sensu, i.e., national security and tackling hybrid threats, the effective protection of EU external borders building on the Evros acquis, and the promotion of national security lato sensu in synergy with the EU security architecture.
The fifth meeting of the seminar “The Eu Policies towards Migration from East Mediterranean” was held online -and via the Webex platform- on Thursday, 16 March 2023. The specific topic treated in this meeting was “The role of Greece in the management of EU’s external borders”.
Professor Yannis Valinakis, President of the Jean Monnet European Center of Excellence of the University of Athens, coordinated the meeting.
Mr. Theodoros Piskioulopoulos, Hellenic Navy Captain, Staff Officer at the National Defense General Staff (Division A1) was the first to take the floor. He remarked that Greece is faced with security challenges and threats due to its particular geostrategic position. The task of border surveillance in order to control and manage migratory flows, is incumbent on the Hellenic Coast Guard and the Hellenic Police, backed by the Armed Forces. The relevant operations are national, combined EU and national (Frontex), and NATO (Aegean Activity/SNMG2). The speaker stressed that the Armed Forces undertake activity first and foremost against external threats from state actors and troops. In cases of non-military threats, the Armed Forces support competent state authorities. Greece, an EU and NATO member, participates in the migration flows management operations and activities at the EU external border, by providing Armed Forces staff and equipment. The remarkably reduced number of illegal entries across the Evros and the East Aegean border results from the Armed Forces, Police and Coast Guard joint efforts, which effectively and with determination did not allow for illegal crossings to take place.
The second speaker, Mr. Dimitrios Mallios, Major General, Hellenic Police, Supervisor at the Aliens and Border Protection Division, presented statistics on migration. Migration is a global phenomenon: according to UNHCR statistics, in 2022 103 million people were forcibly displaced worldwide. In recent years, climate change has become another aggravating factor. Studies suggest that by 2050 climate refugees will reach 1 bn. Europe has been under pressure since 2015, with subsequent problems to reception facilities and for internal security. While from 2015 until 2017 migratory flows were mainly heading to Greece, in the last years we are witnessing a shift towards the Central Mediterranean, with Italy seeing a rise in arrivals. Human traffickers have proved to be resilient and try to cope with border-strengthening countermeasures by member states. The Hellenic Police defend the Greek land border. They also take part in joint operations with the Coast Guard, mainly in the East Aegean Sea, thus developing a shared culture in dealing with the challenges posed by migration. Their cooperation with Europol for the dismantlement of traffickers’ networks, is of equal importance. Cooperation with Frontex regarding returns of those who are not entitled to international protection back to their countries of origin, is also enhanced. It is a challenging endeavour, as many countries of origin do not recognize their citizens and do not issue the necessary travel documents. Mr. Mallios’ closing remark was that the migrant – refugee phenomenon includes booms and busts, but the Hellenic Police are permanently on guard.
Mr. Georgios Christianos, Coast Guard Captain, Staff Officer at the Hellenic Coast Guard Integrated Maritime Surveillance Service, explained how interoperability and cooperation among state security forces have significantly reduced migrant flows, and prevented a new crisis, like the one of 2015, from happening. In 2017-2018 the numbers were stabilized and the newcomers were received and their applications examined on the spot. In July – August 2019 Turkey began instrumentalizing migrants. There was an increase in flows, with the number of persons trying to make it to the EU estimated at above 67,000 in 2019. In 2020, the Evros incident was indicative of the burdensome situation. Mr. Christianos then detailed on the Coast Guard’s operational activities on 1 March 2020: 60 vessels with more than 2,000 officers were ordered to deploy in the East Aegean, surveil the borderline to detect dinghies upon departure from Turkish coasts, do not allow them to enter the Greek sea space, and notify Turkish Authorities to take action. As a result, from March 2020 onwards, migrant flows were decreased. Next, Mr. Christianos nominally listed the refugee and migrants’ nationalities. He then analyzed the reasons that make them depart, while he made special mention of the inhumane conditions of their transport by smugglers. He also touched on the NGOs that operate in situ, remarking that they need to be registered and act in compliance with the guidelines and orders given by the Integrated Maritime Surveillance Service. According to data released by the IOM, in the period 2017 – early 2023 more than 240,000 migrants were rescued by the Hellenic Coast Guard, which attests to the effectiveness of the Coast Guard’s operations. Last, the number of deaths and missing persons in the areas where the Coast Guard, state security forces and Frontex operate, is tellingly lower compared to areas where trafficking goes unhindered.
The last speaker, Ms. Ourania Stavropoulou, Official Secretary to the Ministry of Migration and Asylum, spoke about the challenges Greece -being at the crossroads of migratory routes- is faced with. She gave data on asylum applications submitted at the borders before the Reception and Identification Services: 2019: 7,894; 2020: 10,296; 2021: 6,939; first trimester of 2022: 4,516. She presented the Asylum Service, which applies law on asylum and international protection to aliens and stateless persons, supports policy planning on asylum and international protection, and monitors and assesses its performance. The Regional Asylum Offices and the Autonomous Asylum Units implement international protection law within their territorial jurisdiction. The Ministry’s Special Secretariat works together with state, independent and local governance authorities, as well as with NGOs and International Organizations. It receives funding and carries out relevant projects. The speaker then described how legal migration is promoted through the planification and implementation of public policies on legal entry, legal residence and inclusion of third-countries’ citizens. Furthermore, and with a view to issuing electronic residence permits for third-country citizens who reside in Greece, policies on functional and secure databases are also being developed. Before closing, the speaker said that Greece has gradually established a policy on legal migration. Due to its geographical position, the country cannot afford not to adequately manage migration by means of national mechanisms and procedures, in an environment of enhanced cooperation and with the support of other EU member states on the basis of the principles of solidarity and equitable burden-sharing.
Τhe seminar was followed by a workshop for young researchers