We have just agreed the modalities of NATO’s support in responding to the refugee and migrant crisis.
NATO Defence Ministers took a swift decision two weeks ago to respond to the proposals by Germany, Greece and Turkey. Since then, intense work has been underway.
We will participate in international efforts to cut the lines of illegal trafficking and illegal migration in the Aegean Sea. Because this crisis affects us all. And we all have to find solutions.
NATO’s Standing Maritime Group 2 arrived in the Aegean Sea within 48 hours of the Ministers’ decision. It is conducting reconnaissance, monitoring and surveillance activities. Our ships will be providing information to the coastguards and other national authorities of Greece and Turkey. This will help them carry out their duties even more effectively to deal with the illegal trafficking networks.
We are also establishing direct links with Frontex, the European Union’s border agency.
We will conduct our activities in the Aegean Sea. Our commanders will decide the area where they will be operating, in coordination with Greece and Turkey. NATO vessels can deploy in the territorial waters of Greece and Turkey.
Greek and Turkish forces will not operate in each other’s territorial waters and airspace.
NATO’s task is not to turn back the boats. We will provide critical information. To enable the Greek and Turkish coastguards, as well as Frontex, to do their job even more effectively.
Our added value is that we can facilitate closer cooperation and assist in greater exchange of information between Greece and Turkey, as both are NATO Allies, but only Greece is in the EU. Today’s agreement also means that we are working closer with the EU than ever before. So NATO has a unique role to play as a platform for cooperation.
Let me also address the issue of Search and Rescue. The obligation to help people in distress at sea is a general, universal responsibility. It applies to all vessels. Regardless of whether they are part of a NATO or national mission. If Allied vessels encounter people in distress at sea, they have to live up to their national responsibility to assist.
In case of rescue of persons coming via Turkey, they will be taken back to Turkey. In carrying out their tasks, our nations will abide by national and international law.
The refugee and migrant crisis is a humanitarian tragedy. This is a complex challenge. And it requires all of us to work together to find solutions.
NATO is playing its part.