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Cablegate: Greece/Turkey Talks On Illegal Migrants: Little


DE RUEHTH #1668/01 3471323
O 121323Z DEC 08

C O N F I D E N T I A L ATHENS 001668


E.O. 12958: DECL: 12/05/2018

B. 07 ATHENS 2305

Classified By: DCM Deborah McCarthy for reasons 1.4(b) and (d).

1. (SBU) A Greek delegation visited Ankara in mid-November
for the third round of discussions aimed at improving
implementation of the protocol the two countries signed in
2001 on re-admission of illegal migrants. Over the last two
years, the number of migrants using Greece's Aegean islands
as an entry-way to Europe has grown dramatically, and Greek
officials have repeatedly expressed frustration to us that
Turkey takes only a small portion of them back, despite the
commitment to re-admit that Turkey undertook in 2001. Greek
participants told us the talks were amicable but the Turks
were unwilling to seriously discuss the main Greek objective:
opening up the port of Izmir as a return point for the
migrants. Izmir is listed in the protocol as a return point,
but the Greeks say their Turkish interlocutors ruled out any
re-admission on the Anatolian coast for unspecified "security
reasons." Some returns do occur at the land border between
the two countries, but Greek officials say the logistical and
bureaucratic hurdles involved in transferring aliens detained
at sea to the land border make it very difficult to get them
there within the three-month period specified in the
protocol. End Summary.

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No Breakthrough in Ankara
2. (C) We received readouts of the talks from two Greek
participants: Coast Guard Security Directorate Commander
Yannis Chortis on November 28 and MFA C4 Directorate (Justice
and Home Affairs/Schengen) First Counselor Ioannis Raptakis
on December 4. They were also joined in Ankara by a
representative of the Hellenic Police. Chortis and Raptakis
came back with the same impression of the talks: the Turks
were nice interlocutors who made some positive comments about
speeding up Turkish bureaucratic procedures to respond to
Greek requests for re-admissions, but they were entirely
closed to the one change the Greeks consider most important
to making re-admissions happen -- the use of Izmir port.
Chortis and Raptakis are deeply concerned about the increase
in illegal migration though the Aegean in the last two years.
The Greek Coast Guard has already detained well over 100,000
illegal migrants this year, with nearly all arriving in
Greece after transiting through Turkey en route from such
places as Iraq, Afghanistan, and Somalia. The numbers have
all but overwhelmed local Greek authorities on the islands,
leading to overcrowding and poor conditions at detention
centers, political tensions within Greece, and a steady
stream of onward migration by these migrants to Italy and
elsewhere in Europe (ref A). There is also a danger that
terrorists from conflict zones in the Middle East could use
this wave of immigration to infiltrate into Europe.

3. (C) The bilateral protocol was seen as a major achievement
when it was signed, but as Raptakis explained to us it has
never functioned fully. The protocol identifies three
re-admission points in each country; for Turkey they are
Izmir port, the land border crossing at Ipsala, and Istanbul
Ataturk Airport. In practice, however, the Turks have only
permitted re-admissions at Ipsala. This makes the process
much more difficult for the Greeks, Raptakis and Chortis
explained, because the Coast Guard must hand the migrants
over to the police who process them through Athens. Raptakis
said that it has typically taken the Turks 30 to 40 days to
respond to Greeks requests to re-admit specific individuals.
Given this time lag and the logistical requirements, Raptakis
said, a migrant is unlikely to be turned over to the Turks
within the required three-month limit even if the Turks agree
to the re-admission. Raptakis acknowledged that his Turkish
interlocutors had indicated they would try to accelerate
their internal process, but he was skeptical about whether
this would really happen. In the meantime, he said, the
Turks dismissed Greek requests to do re-admissions at Izmir,
citing "security reasons" that they would not further
explain. When Raptakis suggested finding another port if
Izmir was a problem, the Turks responded that they were not
ready to accept any re-admissions on the Anatolian coast.

4. (C) Raptakis said the Turks accept migrants only from
countries with which Turkey has a re-admission agreement,
primarily Iraq and Iran. In these cases, the Turks say they
are accepting the migrants "for transit," and they charge the
Greeks a 71-Euro fee to return each person to Iraq or Iran.
Raptakis said the Greek police pay this fee, albeit
unhappily. He said the Turks refuse to accept Afghans,
Pakistanis, Sri Lankans, or other nationalities entirely.
Raptakis said he argued to the Turks that if their two
countries enforced the protocol more effectively, word would

quickly circulate among the smugglers and the immigrant
communities, with the result that fewer migrants would be
likely to try to use the Aegean route to enter Europe.
Raptakis said the Turks seemed unmoved by this argument.

5. (C) Greek officials have continued t raise the
implementation of the protocol with the Turks at levels from
the Foreign Minister (ref B) on down, and the next round of
talks on the issue is scheduled to take place within six
months. Despite their frustration over the problem, Greek
officials believe there would have to be political will in
Turkey to make significant progress on re-admission. Chortis
acknowledged to us that the Turks face an even bigger problem
with illegal migrants than Greece does. For both countries,
there is undoubtedly an incentive not to try too hard to stop
the aliens from moving on, passing the burden to the next
country on the route (for the Turks, Greece; for the Greeks,
Italy and Western Europe). There are also difficult
questions about human rights; both Greece and Turkey received
strong criticism in a recent Human Rights Watch report on
treatment of the migrants. Nevertheless, it seems clear to
everyone -- and certainly to the Greek officials we have
engaged on this issue -- that the current system is broken.
As the numbers of migrants increase, the system's failure to
manage the flow will likely have even greater consequences.


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