The Greek prime minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, has angrily defended his government’s immigration policy in a heated exchange with a journalist who accused him of lying over the alleged turning away of asylum seekers in the Aegean.
During a joint press conference with his Dutch counterpart, Mark Rutte, late on Tuesday, Mitsotakis was accused of “narcissistic abuse” with his denials that Greek authorities are refusing asylum seekers entry at its land and sea borders.
“Prime minister Mitsotakis, quando, at last, will you stop lying? Lying about pushbacks, lying about what is happening with the refugees in Grecia?” asked the Dutch reporter Ingeborg Beugel.
In a nation with little tradition of its leaders being publicly put on the spot, the episode was unprecedented.
Clearly irate, Mitsotakis responded: “I understand that in the Netherlands you have a culture of asking direct questions to politicians, which I very much respect. What I will not accept is that in this office you will insult me or the Greek people with accusations and expressions that are not supported by material facts.”
After last year’s border crisis, when thousands of people, encouraged by the Turkish government, attempted to breach Greek frontiers, the EU state has faced growing allegations of engaging in illegal expulsions of asylum seekers on dinghies and other rickety boats arriving from the Turkish coast.
Rights groups and aid organisations, including the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, have increasingly expressed concern, saying the practice of pushing back people without due process is in contravention of international law.
Grecia, like all EU member states, is a signatory to the 1951 Refugee convention, recognising the right of refugees to seek asylum if they face threat of persecution elsewhere.
But Mitsotakis argued that the country deserved praise for saving “hundreds, if not thousands” of people at sea.
“Rather than putting the blame on Greece, you should put the blame on those who have been instrumentalising migration systematically, pushing people in [un] desperate situation from a safe country, because I need to remind you that people in Turkey are not in danger," Egli ha detto.
During the migration crisis of unprecedented intensity, Athens had granted 50,000 asylum seekers the right to protection, Egli ha detto. He said that rather than carrying out pushbacks, Greek patrols were intercepting boats as European regulations allowed.
When Beugel attempted to interrupt him to say their living conditions were “appalling”, Mitsotakis bristled that she clearly hadn’t been to the new and “impeccable” EU-funded facility on Samos – a facility that aid groups have likened to a prison.
In a county so politically fragmented, Beugel was lauded on Wednesday by many on the left for raising an uncomfortable truth.
The MeRA25 party, led by the former finance minister Yanis Varoufakis, countered that it was “the good name of Greece” that had been insulted by the “crimes” being committed by the Greek coastguard, government and other EU countries with the support of Frontex, the bloc’s border agency, in the Aegean.