ANKARA, Turkey, March 6 (UPI) -- NATO announced Sunday it is expanding its mission to help fend off human trafficking of migrants into the European Union, deploying ships to Greek and Turkish waters to assist the EU's border agency Frontex.
North Atlantic Treaty Organization Secretary Gen. Jens Stoltenberg said he welcomes the swift action his organization took and he expects it to pay off almost immediately, Hurriyet Daily News reported.
"NATO ships are already collecting information and conducting monitoring in the Aegean Sea. Their activity will now be expanded to take place also in territorial waters," said Stoltenberg in a statement released on the alliance's website Sunday.
"Our commanders have defined our area of activity in close consultation and coordination with both Greece and Turkey. Our activities in territorial waters will be carried out in consultation and coordination with both Allies," he said in the statement. "The purpose of NATO's deployment is not to stop or push back migrant boats, but to help our allies Greece and Turkey, as well as the European Union, in their efforts to tackle human trafficking and the criminal networks that are fueling this crisis."
The NATO effort to stem the flow of migrants to the EU was first announced by Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Ankara on Feb. 8. The plan was accepted within days by the NATO foreign ministers.
More than one million migrants flocked to the shores of the EU in 2015, and another 135,000 appeared in the first two months of 2016. Hundreds have died making the perilous crossing.
Stoltenberg said NATO and Frontex will be able to exchange liaison officers and share information in real time, which will enable Frontex, as well as Greece and Turkey, to take action in real time.
"This is an excellent example of how NATO and the EU can work together to address common challenges, he said. "I welcome the fact that we were able to finalize these arrangements in such a short time. "In this crisis, time is of the essence, and cooperation is key."