Belgian State Secretary accused of saying “let them drown”, characterises statements as “grotesque”

EPA/OLIVIER HOSLET

(L-R) Hungarian Minister of Interior Pinter Sandor, French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve and Belgian State Secretary for Asylum Policy, Migration and Administrative Simplification Theo Francken during a special European Justice home affairs ministers council on Migration crisis in Brussels, Belgium, 22 September 2015

The Belgian State Secretary would prefer Greece to become Europe’s “waiting room”


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The Greek Deputy Immigration Minister, Ioannis Mouzalas, told BBC’s Newsnight that the Belgian interior minister told him on Monday’s Council in Amsterdam that Greece should “push” migrants “back in the sea.”

Furthermore, Mr. Mouzalas suggests that Theo Francken told him to “drive them back into the sea; go against the law; I’m sorry, but I do not care if they drown.”

Francken also reportedly told Mouzalas to set up camp in Athens for 300,000 immigrants.

Francken has categorically denied Mouzalas’ suggestions as “grotesque.”

“In no way did I call on my Greek colleague to “push back migrants, even if that means drowning them”. I deeply regret these grotesque statements. Belgium is a well respected country with high standards in terms of human rights, reception of asylum seekers and international protection. I cannot help but noticing that these accusations come right at a time when Greece is getting ever more isolated within the European debate on migration.

On the substance of his statement, Francken said that Greece “clearly lacks” the ability to handle the situation and that is why he called for the “Europeanisation of the hotspots in Greece.” In essence, the Minister suggested that hotspots should act as a European waiting room, from where migrants that are not entitled to international protection (asylum) are returned to their country of origin.

The Austrian Minister of Interior, Mikl-Leitner, suggested on Monday that the Greek navy had enough resources “to secure” the Greek-Turkish border. However, speaking to reporters upon arrival for the Minister’s Council on Monday she did not specify how the Greek navy could “secure” those borders.

Speaking to La Stampa on Tuesday, Italy’s Interior Minister warned that thousands would continue the journey to Italy. Alfano noted that it is impossible to put barbed wire in the Adriatic or the Mediterranean.

Italy’s Foreign Minster, Paolo Gentiloni, made the choice explicit on Tuesday, January 13: “The European Union (EU) has two possibilities: either it suffers the consequences of the migrant flow or it tries to control it.” Italy’s preference on the matter is also clear, with Gentiloni saying that it is the Dublin convention that requires review, especially the clause which requires asylum-seekers coming into the EU to be processed in their country of arrival.

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