The meeting of the 5+5 Dialogue for the Mediterranean, scheduled to take place in Rome on Monday, “will be a prime opportunity for political leaders from Athens to discuss recent developments in the region and especially in the eastern Mediterranean”. This was the position outlined by the Grigorios Delavecuras, spokesperson for Greece’s Foreign Ministry, as the country’s Foreign Minister, Stavros Dimas, prepares this evening to head to Rome.
Monday’s meeting, which will be the first one to be attended by Greece alongside Turkey and Egypt, “will also provide an opportunity to discuss how the EU’s role can best be utilised: it is a very important instrument we have for promoting cooperation between the northern and the southern shores of the Mediterranean,” the spokesperson added.
As Mr Delavecuras continued, the Rome meeting “will also provide an opportunity for new bilateral talks between Italy’s Foreign Minister, Terzi and ours, Dimas, which are sure to range across the themes of the Balkans to EU enlargement and the exploiting of the hydrocarbon reserves recently discovered by Cyprus, as well as Turkey’s threats in this regard”.
During the group stage – which will include the five countries of the northern shore: Italy, France, Spain, Malta and Portugal, and the five of the southern shore: Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Mauritania and Morocco – there are various matters on the agenda, including regional security, energy, protection of the environment, development and immigration. As the spokesperson pointed out, “The phenomenon of illegal immigration is one that Greece finds particularly important, bearing in mind that 90% of arrests of illegal immigrants occur on the border between our country and Turkey. These are figures way beyond Greece’s ability to act alone and there is not much more that we can do, despite the top class cooperation we get from Frontex,” the EU’s border control agency.
Despite the fact that our deep economic crisis is making the prospect of living in Greece less and less attractive, the problem of illegal immigration continues to affect the country and the influx of illegal migrants is not just continuing apace by is continuing to increase in volume, given that Greece remains a stop-over point on the route into other EU countries. According to figures from Greece’s police, the flow of illegal migrants crossing the River Evros on the border with Turkey is showing no signs of easing. Last year, the number of illegal immigrants into Greece rose by 16.77% year on year. Last year also saw 54,974 people arrested as they attempted to cross the river, compared to just 47,079 in 2010. One hundred and sixty people crossed into Greece just in the one night preceding the start of work in a proper wall over 10 km long to prevent illegal immigration across the Turkish border. Criticism has been voiced at the construction of a Greek wall over recent days at the Council of Europe, with some calling the project both futile and dangerous, as it could increase the number of lives lost in the attempt to cross. “Does Greece expect the Rome meeting to focus on this frontier wall, which, apart from anything else, will cost the Greek state between three and five million euros during this period of crisis?” Mr Delavecuras replied, “This wall protects the frontiers of our country and it is only one of the many means we have for curbing the inflow of illegal migrants. Apart from which, it is no more than a technical barrier: a device used with success by other countries in the past. We do not think that the Rome meeting will focus on this because we are also adopting a series of other measures to manage the enormous tide of illegal migrants. This is just one aspect of the issue. It is important to remember that, like other countries, Greece does not, unfortunately, have adequate infrastructure to cope properly with illegal migrants arriving on its territory”.