German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock has rebuffed Greek calls for further World War II reparations from Germany but expressed contrition for Greek people's suffering under occupation. She also called for a transparent and consistent investigation into reported pushbacks at Greek borders that involved the European Border and Coast Guard Agency (Frontex) in Athens on Thursday. Later, her focus is to switch to strained bilateral ties with Turkey.
What was on the program for Baerbock in Greece so far?
To start off her visit in Greece, Baerbock commemorated the victims of the German occupation during World War II by visiting a former Nazi prison where thousands of resistance fighters and civilians were imprisoned and tortured between 1941 and 1944.
After this, she placed flowers at the Athens Holocaust Memorial.
Greek media reported that Baerbock said that remembering German atrocities during World War II was a matter close to her heart.
"The responsibility for your own history never stops," she said.
Despite this, Baerbock didn't acknowledge Greek calls for reparations. She said the new coalition government, elected in 2021, didn't see a change to the legal situation as perceived by past administrations, namely that such issues were settled in the immediate aftermath of the war and then again in 1990.
Both Greece and Poland are trying to claim reparations, seeking negotiations about them with the German government.
What did Baerbock have to say about the situation of refugees in Greece?
Baerbock said it was crucial that the European Union ensure that human rights are guaranteed universally at borders. The pushbacks of refugees reported in German media recently would not be compatible with European law, she went on to say.
Der Spiegel reported on Thursday as Baerbock departed that a leaked report accused Frontex of willfully ignoring the Greek border patrol, not allowing refugees to cross borders. The report goes on to state the Frontex was allegedly involved in these illegal activities, Spiegel reported.
This behavior marked a human rights violation that Frontex knew and did nothing about.
Baerbock called on the Greek authorities to systematically investigate the reports. While the EU had to protect its borders, European ideals must still be upheld, she said.
"If we look away, our European ideals will drown in the Mediterranean", she warned.
The foreign minister proposed an EU sea rescue program in which safeguarded migrants would be moved to other member states than the ones they arrived in.
Baerbock had visited a refugee camp close to Athens alongside Greek Migration Minister Panagiotis Mitarachi, before making her strong statements.
Mitarachi denied the accusation that Greeke border forces were involved in pushbacks and preventing refugees from the right to apply for asylum.
He said Greece had a right to protect its borders and that officials adhered to the rules even if there could be wrongdoing by individuals.
According to EU law, Greece has an obligation to offer refugees the opportunity to apply for asylum. The European Commission has repeatedly appealed to the authorities to stop violent and illegal pushbacks of refugees at its borders.
Pushbacks mean migrants are pushed back onto the ocean without being given the opportunity to apply for asylum beforehand.
The number of refugees crossing into Greece, especially from Turkey, has increased by 30% in the first four months of the year. Often, they have fled countries such as Syria, Afghanistan or Iraq.
Strained relations between Greece and Turkey
Baerbock is scheduled to hold talks with Greece and Turkey, whose relationship has been strained recently, on Friday.
She will meet Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and her Greek counterpart, Nikos Dendias, first, to then fly out to Istanbul for talks with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu.
The relations between the countries have regressed as Turkey questioned the sovereignty of Greek islands and is demanding the withdrawal of Greek military installments, while Greece remains alert over the presence of Turkish landing boats.
Baerbock said it was particularly important to her to visit both of these partners as Russia is trying to "divide the NATO alliance," of which both Greece and Turkey are members.
los/msh (dpa, AFP, Reuters)