By George Gilson
Α joint news conference with visiting Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte and Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis today became explosive when a Dutch journalist unleashed an ad hominem attack on the Greek PM over charges that Greece engages in push-backs of refugees and migrants coming to Greece from the coasts of Turkey.
In a tweet before the presser, Beugel tweeted: «In a little while here will appear Greek PM Mitsotakis and Dutch PM Mark Rutte. Both co responsible for pushbacks and refugees horror. I have the right to ask ONE question : WHICH QUESTION YOU WANT ME TO ASK THEM? PLEASE GIMME IDEAS!»
Mitsotakis replied that his government has a “tough but fair policy on migration” that is in line with EU regulations, and that the Greek Coast Guard has saved “hundreds if not thousands of lives” in the Aegean.
He stressed that the blame should be placed on Turkey, which has “instrumentalised” refugees and migrants, sending them to cross over to Greece, even though Turkey is a safe country.
“I understand that in The Netherlands you have a culture of asking direct questions to politicians, which I very much respect. What I will not accept is that in this office you will insult me or the Greek people with accusations and expressions that are not supported by material facts, when this country has been dealing with a migration crisis of unprecedented intensity, and has been saving hundreds, if not thousands, of people at sea,” he said.
Rutte, in his response to the same question, defended the policy of Mitsotakis and his government.
“I am absolutely convinced that this prime minister and this government is applying the highest standards and the fact that they have immediately launched an investigation on the issue of the pushbacks is testimony of that…What this country is trying to do is to defend the outer borders of the European Union,” Rutte replied.
The transcript of the question and answers is as follows:
De Groene Amsterdammer reporter:
“I have one question for both of you. Prime Minister Mitsotakis, when at last will you stop lying, lying about pushbacks, lying about what is happening with the refugees in Greece? Please don’t insult mine and neither the intelligence of all the journalists in the world. There has been overwhelming evidence and you keep denying and lying. This is like narcissistic abuse. Why are you not honest? Why don’t you say Brussels left us alone? We waited for six years. Nobody did anything. We need to relocate. They don’t do it. Now, I have my say and yes I do cruel, barbarian pushbacks. Why did you stop knocking on Brussels’ door for relocation?”
“For you Mr. Rutte, what according to you are the sanctions that should be imposed on Greece and maybe on Holland for accepting this violation of human rights that Holland is co-responsible of also? Many, many municipalities in Holland want to take many refugees from Greece, like many minor unaccompanied children. They are many to accept them, but this prime minister opposes to that, so maybe you could find an understanding and the Dutch municipality who are so ready to unburden Greece can actually take in refugees from Greece, which his [the Greek PM’s] government opposes.
PM Kyriakos Mitsotakis’ reply:
“I understand that in The Netherlands you have a culture of asking direct questions to politicians which I very much respect. What I will not accept is that in this office you will insult me or the Greek people with accusations and expressions that are not supported by material facts, when this country has been dealing with a migration crisis of unprecedented intensity, has been saving hundreds, if not thousands, of people at sea. We just rescued 250 people in danger of drowning, south of Crete. We are doing this every single day, rescuing people at sea, while at the same time, yes, we are intercepting boats that come from Turkey, as we have the right to do in accordance with European regulation, and waiting for the Turkish Coast Guard to come and pick them up to return them to Turkey.”
“So rather than putting the blame on Greece, you should put the blame on those who have been instrumentalising migration systematically, pushing people in a desperate situation from a safe country – because I need to remind you that the people who are in Turkey are not in danger. Their life is not in danger, and you should put the blame on others and not on us. We have a tough but fair policy on migration. We have processed and given the right to [international] protection to 50,000 people in Greece, including tens of thousands of Afghans.”
“Have you visited the new camps on our islands? Have you been to Samos? [journalist interrupts with “Yes I have”] No you have not. You will not come into this building and insult me. Am I very clear on this? I am answering now and you will not interrupt me, in the same way that I listened to you very carefully. If you go to Samos, you will find an impeccable camp with impeccable conditions, funded by EU money, with clean facilities, with playgrounds for the children to play – no comparison to what we had in the past. This is our policy. We will stand by it, and I will not accept anyone pointing the finger to this government and accusing it of inhumane behaviour.”
Dutch PM Mark Rutte’s response:
“I am absolutely convinced that this prime minister and this government is applying the highest standards and the fact that they have immediately launched an investigation on the issue of the pushbacks is testimony of that…What this country is trying to do is to defend the outer borders of the European Union. It is a lot of tasks that countries have who are lying on the outside like Italy, Spain, Hungary, Slovenia, but also Poland and Greece, and there is an extremely difficult situation.”
“What I don’t want again is for people to take boats that are not fully equipped to pass the Mediterranean or to pass the Aegean Sea, to die in those circumstances. I want them to stay there [in Turkey], to be safe, and then we are willing as European Union to take a fair share of people from Africa, from Turkey – refugees, in line with the plans devised in 2015 [the EU-Turkey Statement on refugees-migrants] and 2016.”