According to NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg, NATO ships are being deployed to the Aegean sea in a bid to deter people-smugglers taking migrants from Turkey to Greece. The announcement follows a request from Turkey, Greece and Germany at a defense ministers’ meeting in Brussels.
MR Stoltenberg has disclosed that the mission would not be about “stopping or pushing back refugee boats,” adding that instead, NATO will contribute “critical information and surveillance to help counter human trafficking.” He further disclosed that the decision was made in order to help Greece and Turkey “manage a human tragedy in a better way then we have managed to do so far.” Earlier, US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter commented that targeting the “criminal syndicate that is exploiting these poor people” would have the greatest humanitarian impact.
NATO’s Standing Maritime Group 2, which is under German command, will lead the operation in co-operation with Greek and Turkish authorities. According to the United Nations refugee agency, almost 75,000 migrants and refugees have already arrived in Greece by sea in 2016.
On 9 September, the United Nations announced that at least 850,000 people are expected to cross the Mediterranean, seeking refuge in Europe this year and next. In its announcement, the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, called for more cohesive asylum policies in order to deal with the growing numbers.
In a newly released document, the refugee agency reported that “in 2015, UNHCR anticipates that approximately 400,000 new arrivals will seek international protection in Europe via the Mediterranean. In 2016, this number could reach 450,000 or more.” It noted that many of the refugees are Syrians, who have been driven to make the dangerous voyage by intensified fighting there, coupled with worsening conditions for refugees in surrounding countries, which has been due to funding shortfalls in aid programmes. UNHCR spokesman William Spindler has noted that the prediction for this year is already close to being fulfilled as 366,000 have already made the voyage. He disclosed that the total will depend on whether migrants stop attempting the journey as the weather becomes colder and the seas more dangerous. Currently however the numbers do not appear to have slowed down, and are not likely to given Germany’s announcement that it will ease the rules for Syrians seeking refuge who first reach the European Union (EU) through other countries. The UNHCR has reported that a single-day record 7,000 Syrian refugees arrived in the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia on 7 September, while 30,000 are on Greek Islands, most of them on Lesbos.
Germany has told its European partners that they must take in more refugees as it handles record numbers of asylum seekers. Other countries, including the US and wealthy Gulf States must also take on their responsibilities. Last week, the White House announced that it was considering steps to ease the crisis.