Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has said there has not been any fundamental change in Turkey’s policy toward Greece but that if Turkey becomes more aggressive, the European Union can always hit it with sanctions, the English edition of the Greek Kathimerini newspaper reported.
Mitsotakis’s remarks came during a meeting of the center-right European People’s Party (EPP) in Strasbourg on Monday. Mitsotakis had traveled to Strasbourg to attend a memorial ceremony for the late president of the European Parliament, David Sassoli, who died on Jan. 11.
“I would like to thank you all again for your support, especially when we are accused of alleged human rights abuses, and these accusations come from a country not noted for its stellar record in respecting human rights. I am referring to Turkey, of course,” Mitsotakis said.
Turkey’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) government frequently accuses Greece of abusing migrants and pushing them back to Turkey.
Pushbacks prevent asylum-seekers from making claims for protected status, and if practiced indiscriminately can constitute a violation of core EU human rights laws and the 1951 Geneva Convention.
“This is why this two-tier approach we have taken, extending a hand of friendship while at the same time preparing a set of possible dissuasive measures that could be used if Turkey returns to an aggressive attitude towards Greece and Cyprus is still, in my opinion, the right approach,” he added.
Greece has been in the throes of Europe’s biggest migration crisis since 2015, when more than a million asylum seekers, mainly Syrians, streamed into neighboring Turkey, making the crossing into Greece and on to other parts of Europe.
In early 2020 Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan lifted all border controls, giving a green light to millions of refugees trapped in Turkey to flee to Europe through Greece. The government in Athens responded by invoking special powers, allowing it to block what it called an enemy invasion.
The AKP government and its leader and President Erdoğan are also at the center of criticism for using refugees as bargaining chips in Turkey’s relations with Europe.