In Greece, Federal Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock criticized the illegal rejection of refugees at the EU’s external borders and called for systematic investigations. “If we look the other way, then our values will perish in the Mediterranean,” she said on Thursday after visiting a refugee camp near Athens and the Frontex border protection agency at the port of Piraeus.
European values should also apply at the EU’s external border. “It’s often about the weakest: it’s about men and women who have been on the run for years, it’s about small children,” emphasized Baerbock.
Aid organizations have been criticizing for years that Greek border guards are systematically pushing migrants back to Turkey so that they do not apply for asylum in Greece. There are also repeated media reports on such so-called pushbacks, in which Frontex is also accused of involvement.
Blanket refusals of people seeking protection at the external borders are illegal under international law.
But Baerbock also called for more support for Greece in securing the EU’s external border and for a joint European sea rescue service to save refugees from drowning trying to get to Europe via the Mediterranean.
Aid organizations are currently taking on this task. But Baerbock demanded: “In the medium term, this task must become a state task again.”
According to the refugee agency UNHCR, since the beginning of the year around 6,250 people have been able to cross the border in north-east Greece or cross by boat from the west coast of Turkey to the Greek islands. There were always boat accidents and deaths. Athens and Ankara blame each other for this state of affairs.
At the start of her visit to Greece, Baerbock commemorated the victims of the German occupation during World War II. The Greens politician visited the former prison of the Nazi headquarters, where thousands of resistance fighters and civilians were imprisoned and tortured between 1941 and 1944. She then laid flowers at the Athens Holocaust Memorial.
The Foreign Minister then stressed that a “line should never be drawn” under the Nazi past. But she also reiterated the German rejection of Greek reparation claims.
Greece, like Poland, continues to assert claims for compensation and calls for negotiations on this. Germany, on the other hand, considers the issue to be closed and is referring to the Two Plus Four Agreement on the foreign policy consequences of German reunification from 1990.
However, the Federal Foreign Minister sees no legal basis for such demands. “We obviously have different opinions on the issue of World War II compensation payments,” said Baerbock in Athens. She wants to talk to the Greek government about “how we can use our common history to build an even better future together”.
On Friday, Baerbock will hold her talks with Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias in Athens. She then travels to Turkey.
Before the visit, the Greek newspaper Ta Nea asked whether Baerbock had “backtracked” on the reparations issue because she had meanwhile switched from the opposition to the government.
Because just last year, the Greens parliamentary group, including Baerbock, had demanded in a motion that the Greek demands “in future no longer be met with loud silence and rejection”. At the time, the Greens specifically called for a “new approach” to the Athens demand for repayment of the so-called forced loan.
The double visit to the two NATO partners is important to her, especially in these difficult times when Russia is trying to split the Western alliance, the Greens politician said in an interview with the Ta Nea newspaper. “The cohesion between NATO allies and European partners has never been more important.”
Relations between NATO members Greece and Turkey have recently deteriorated massively. Ankara is challenging the sovereignty of Greek islands in the eastern Aegean, such as Rhodes, Samos and Kos, and is calling for the Greek military to withdraw.