Nato orders ships to set sail to tackle people smugglers

A Greek coastguard vessel with migrants rescued from the Aegean. Picture: AP
A Greek coastguard vessel with migrants rescued from the Aegean. Picture: AP
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Nato yesterday ordered three warships to sail immediately to the Aegean Sea to help end the deadly smuggling of asylum-seekers across the waters from Turkey to Greece.

“This is about helping Greece, Turkey and the European Union with stemming the flow of migrants and refugees and coping with a very demanding situation… a human tragedy,” said Nato Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg.

The arrival of more than a million people in Europe last year – mostly Syrians, Iraqis and Afghans – has plunged the EU into what some see as the most serious crisis in the 28-nation bloc’s history.

The International Organisation for Migration reported this week that 76,000 people – nearly 2,000 per day – have reached Europe by sea since 1 January and 409 of them died trying, most drowning in the cold rough waters. Yesterday’s decision by Nato defence ministers in Brussels came in response to a joint request by three members – Turkey, Germany and Greece – for an international effort targeting the smugglers.

“This is not about stopping or pushing back refugee boats,” Stoltenberg stressed at a news conference.

“Nato will contribute critical information and surveillance to help counter human trafficking and criminal networks.”

In a related effort, the military alliance will also step up its intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance activities on the Turkish-Syrian border, Stoltenberg said.

The vessels of Nato Standing Maritime Group 2 “will start to move now”, Stoltenberg said.

According to Nato’s website, the flotilla is composed of a German navy flagship, the Bonn, and two other ships, the Barbaros from Turkey and the Fredericton from Canada.

“[Until now] Nato has been focused on how we can address the root causes, to try to stabilise the countries where many of the refugees are coming from,” Stoltenberg said, mentioning Afghanistan, Iraq, Tunisia and Jordan. “The new thing now is that we provide direct help, direct support, to Turkish authorities, to Greek authorities, and to the European Union,” he said.  

US air force general Philip Breedlove, Nato’s top commander in Europe, said the mission plan was still being written as the Bonn and her sister craft were under way. He said they should be at their Aegean destination today.