NATO to launch migrant patrols in Aegean Sea under conditions from Greece

By Andrew V. Pestano  |  Feb. 11, 2016 at 8:03 AM
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BRUSSELS, Feb. 11 (UPI) -- NATO will deploy ships to the Aegean Sea in efforts to discourage human smugglers from taking migrants from Turkey to Greece, a move Athens only accepted under certain conditions.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg on Thursday said the operation would contribute "critical information and surveillance to help counter human trafficking" and not be about "stopping or pushing back refugee boats."

Greece said it would accept NATO naval patrols, including on the Greek side of the sea, as long as Greek and Turkish ships involved would patrol in their own territorial waters. Germany currently leads the NATO Maritime Group patrol that is made up of four vessels -- one each from Germany, Greece, Turkey and Canada.

Greece also said neither Greece nor Turkey should assume leadership of the patrol group as part of a rotation among the four countries, also stressing territorial rights should be respected in search and rescue missions, and that Turkey should submit flight plans for any aircraft used in NATO missions over the Aegean.

The NATO patrol announcement followed a request by Turkey, Germany and Greece at a defense ministers' meeting in the Brussels NATO headquarters.

Stoltenberg said the decision was made to help Turkey and Greece "manage a human tragedy in a better way than we have managed to do so far."

Earlier this week, the International Organization for Migration released data indicating more than 76,000 migrants have arrived in Europe by sea since the start of the year.

Meanwhile, NATO also plans to increase the number of troops stationed in Eastern Europe. A meeting to decide the structure of the multi-national force is scheduled to be held in June, while a vote on the measure is set for July.

"We will have as much presence in the east as needed," Stoltenberg said during a press conference, adding that forces will be rotating.

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