Today, I had the real pleasure to meet with the Prime Minister of Lithuania, who is visiting Greece accompanied by officials from the Lithuanian Ministries of Interior and Justice.
We had the opportunity to touch upon many issues of common interest regarding the Future of Europe, tackling the pandemic, which is still posing its own challenges and of course our plan for the economic recovery post Covid-19, now that the first national plans have been approved by the Commission and by the relevant European institutions. But of course we also discussed in detail the current significant migration pressures that Lithuania is confronted with on its eastern border with Belarus.
These problems -as we discussed- are similar in nature to those Greece has faced for many years. They are characterized by persistent migratory flows, coupled occasionally with an orchestrated effort by a third country to exert political pressure on the European Union through migration as a tool for the projection of geopolitical power.
Lithuania has of late experienced similar challenges and dynamics. I have expressed to Ingrida my full support. What Belarus is doing is simply unacceptable.
Instrumentalizing human beings for political purposes, exploiting the situation through fake news, exploiting their desire to migrate, and encouraging them to take on a perilous journey, all that constitutes in my mind a serious violation of human rights and an assault on human dignity.
We discussed with the Prime Minister and the Lithuanian delegation how to effectively manage the many dimensions that such complicated situations present: how do we protect the EU’s external borders? How do we ensure the necessary reception conditions? How do we speed up -as we have successfully done in Greece- the asylum procedures. And, not least, how do we effectively and quickly return those not entitled to international protection to their countries of origin or countries of transit.
Greece has stood by Lithuania from the very beginning of the recent migratory situation it faces. As Lithuania stood by Greece when we faced our challenges, last March, on our land border with Turkey. And I think the solidarity of frontline Mediterranean states has also been clear.
Our Spanish counterpart, Pedro Sánchez, paid a visit in Vilnius just a few days ago, and the group of the Med-5 countries has expressed the need for effective cooperation at the EU level to manage the complex aspects of the migration problem.
It is the view of the Greek government that the migration crisis poses significant challenges to the whole EU and therefore must be addressed collectively by the whole EU. Member states on the external borders, whether in the South, East or the North of Europe, may find themselves coming under severe migratory pressures.
It is against this backdrop that, in addition to the technical bilateral cooperation for dealing with the current situation, we agreed that we need to coordinate our common positions regarding the negotiation for the new European Migration and Asylum Pact.
Our shared aim is to achieve a just and effective common European policy. One that will clearly not overburden member states exposed to migratory pressures, due to their geography, but will instead ensure a fair and proper sharing of responsibility across the Union always in the spirit of solidarity.
I wish to take this opportunity to underline in the strongest possible terms that Greece is committed to protecting its borders – which are also the borders of the EU – while always ensuring full respect for human rights. And we will continue to do so both in respect to our sovereign responsibilities, but also in line with EU regulations.
This of course includes intercepting attempted illegal crossings at sea. I need to point out that attempting such sea crossings is highly dangerous to those undertaking these journeys and those who are being encouraged to do so and are being facilitated and exploited by unscrupulous criminal gangs that need to know that they will be held accountable for their actions.
Neither Greece in the south nor Lithuania in the north wish to be the gateway to Europe for people smuggling networks, or third-party States intent on putting pressure on the EU.
Our clear objective should be to discourage but also disrupt the dangerous criminal gangs and to stop them putting lives at risk. I believe that this is a position that is shared by all EU member states and by the EU institutions.
Let me end my remarks by again offering our full and ongoing support to the Lithuanian government in respect to this issue. The pressures you face are not yours to manage alone. The Greek government extends whatever know-how it has but also its solidarity to Lithuania. And I do hope that this tricky situation is resolved as quickly as possible.
Again, Prime Minister, welcome to Athens.