NATO Ships in Aegean to Help EU Stem People Smuggling
NATO Defence Ministers have agreed that the Alliance will take part in the international efforts to stem the illegal trafficking and illegal migration across the Aegean Sea, Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said on Thursday.
NATO’s Standing Maritime Group 2, which is currently deployed in the region under German command, “will be tasked to conduct reconnaissance, monitoring and surveillance of the illegal crossings in the Aegean Sea in cooperation with relevant authorities,” Stoltenberg said.
The objective of the maritime mission is not to stop or push back refugee boats, but to contribute “critical information and surveillance to help counter human trafficking and criminal networks […] in cooperation with national coastguards, and working closely with the European Union,” Stoltenberg said at a news conference in Bruussels after a two-day meeting of defence ministers from NATO member states.
It will also establish a direct link with the EU’s border management agency, Frontex.
AFP news agency quoted German government sources as saying on Thursday that Turkey, Greece and Germany wanted NATO to begin surveillance of the Aegean Sea to provide "a clear view" of how people smugglers are operating along the Turkish coast.
Turkey has taken in more than 2.5 million Syrian refugees, and is a major transit point for migrants from Asia and Africa streaming into Europe. Over a million migrants and refugees reached Europe last year, many making the perilous journey by boat from Turkey across the Aegean Sea to Greece.
NATO ministers also “agreed in principle to use NATO AWACS surveillance planes to backfill national AWACS capabilities” in the fight of the international coalition against the Islamic State group, Stoltenberg said.
The decision will increase the coalition’s ability to “degrade and destroy the terrorist group ISIL, which is our common enemy,” he added, using another name for the organization of Islamic militants that controls parts of Iraq and Syria.
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