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NATO considers helping Turkey with refugees

February 9, 2016

NATO's 28 defense ministers will consider, this week, a request to help Turkey track down human traffickers along its border with Greece. The request is not without concerns from Greece, and other member states.

Volunteers signal to a rubber dinghy boat full of refugees and coming from Turkey to Lesvos island, Greece.
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/S. Baltagiannis

With no end in sight to the refugee flow into Europe, Turkey and Germany have agreed to ask NATO for help in securing the Turkish-Greek border – a request NATO says it will take “very seriously.”

The aim is combat human traffickers who continue cramming desperate refugees onto rickety boats, which all too often sink at sea.

NATO will take up the issue Wednesday and Thursday during a two-day meeting of the alliance's defense ministers in Brussels, according to Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.

"We will take very seriously the request from Turkey and other allies to look into what NATO can do to help them cope and deal with the crisis and all the challenges they face, not least in Turkey, " Stoltenberg told a news conference.

He stressed that no decisions had been made on how to proceed but, he said, "I expect the ministers to discuss the request from Turkey and then agree on how we can follow up."

While there is a broad desire to help the migrants, at least to the extent of preventing their deaths, deploying NATO troops in such a manner is not without controversy.

Wary Greece

Greece, which has long had tense relations with Turkey, is insisting on various safeguards.

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras had told German Chancellor Angela Merkel "that any involvement by the alliance must be confined solely to the Turkish coast and guarantee Greek sovereign rights," said a Greek government spokesman in Athens, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

More broadly some alliance members are wary of getting sucked into a broader conflict, as the Syrian regime, with the backing of a brutal air attack by Russia, has made steady territorial gains in recent months.

NATO already agreed to a series of measures to support Turkey in December after the alliance member shot down a Russian military jet that violated Turkish airspace in November.

Those measures included deploying AWACS surveillance aircraft, air policing and increased maritime presence.

Turkey has become the main transit route for migrants and refugees crossing into Europe, which received over a million people last year, more than half of them fleeing the war in Syria.

The EU meanwhile said it would welcome any additional assistance in dealing with a crisis which has put the 28-nation bloc under huge strain, European Commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas told journalists.

"We welcome," Schinas said, "all discussions on potential measures which could contribute to addressing the refugee crisis, save lives at sea and improve the management of migratory flows and borders."

bik/jil (AFP, AP, Reuters)