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World

November 19, 2015

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Greece, Turkey agree to boost cooperation

ANKARA: Greece and its neighbour Turkey on Wednesday agreed to "urgently" unite efforts to tackle the flow of refugees entering the European Union member state from Turkish territory.
Visiting Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and Turkish counterpart Ahmet Davutoglu vowed to step up cooperation between their migration services and coastguards to beat the scourge of human trafficking.
"As both Greece and Turkey, our first priority should be to end the humanitarian tragedy in the Aegean Sea," said Tsipras, referring to the drowning of hundreds of Greece-bound migrants this year.
"This is an international crisis. No country can fight it alone."
Tsipras, whose country is still battling the effects of its financial crisis, called for joint efforts to combat human smugglers after the Paris attacks threw a spotlight on security implications of the migrant flow.
"They (the smugglers) are ... an insult, a threat to humanity. They do not hesitate to jeopardise people’s lives," he said.
Turkey, the main launching pad for migrants fleeing to Europe in search of better lives, is under pressure to impose stricter controls on human smuggling into the European Union.
Ankara and Athens agreed to "urgently start cooperation" on the level of foreign ministers as well as migration and coastguard authorities, in order to fight trafficking networks and grant legal resettlement rights for migrants, said the Greek premier.
As a first sign of the new mechanism, the Greek coastguard commander was holding talks in Ankara with his Turkish counterpart, he noted.
Turkey, a vocal critic of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, is currently playing host to 2.2 million Syrian refugees, and negotiating an action plan with the EU.
In return for its help, Turkey has demanded the EU provide three billion euros ($3.3 billion) a year in funding, visa-free travel for Turkish nationals and an end to the stalemate in talks for Ankara to join the 28-nation bloc.


"Neither Turkey nor Greece are responsible for the refugee crisis," Davutoglu said. "They are both the victims of the Syrian crisis."
He called for a political solution to end the bloodshed in Syria, and said: "A final solution passes through Damascus."
More than 650,000 migrants and refugees, have reached the Greek islands so far in 2015 using the eastern Mediterranean route, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) said earlier this month. Of those, 512 people died.
Just a few hours after Tsipras arrived in Turkey Tuesday, at least nine people, including four children, drowned when a boat carrying migrants from Turkey sank off the Greek island of Kos.
Athens fears coming under renewed EU pressure over the migrant crisis after the discovery at the scene of one of Friday’s Paris attacks of a Syrian passport registered in the Greek island of Leros on October 3.
The document was found near the body of a suicide bomber but investigators believe it may have belonged to a Syrian regime soldier killed several months ago.
Tsipras said police measures alone would not be enough to combat the problem. "Neither Frontex nor someone else can solve this problem unless a political solution is found," he said, referring to the EU border cooperation agency.
Tsipras and Davutoglu attended an international football friendly between Turkey and Greece on Tuesday, but the match in Istanbul was overshadowed by some Turkish fans booing the Greek team during a minute of silence for the victims of the Paris attacks.
Before travelling to Ankara, he held a 40-minute meeting with the Istanbul-based Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, the spiritual leader of the world’s Orthodox Christians.
Greece and Turkey have a fraught history going back centuries, with disputes over maritime borders and the partition of Cyprus. But tensions between the NATO allies have eased considerably in recent years.

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