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NATO Ships To Crack Down On Migrant Smuggling Networks


So NATO's involvement is supposed to help Greece deal with this crisis. Reporter Joanna Kakissis is in Athens, and I asked her whether Greek people see this as any sort of a solution.

JOANNA KAKISSIS, BYLINE: You know, actually, from over here, like, to many Greeks, it just looks like it's more about German domestic politics. You know, German Chancellor Angela Merkel's popularity back home has just tanked because of her handling of the migrant crisis. And it's true that Germany has indeed taken in most of the migrants who arrived last year. Several European politicians, including the Germans, have been slamming Greece for what they say is, like, this failure to keep migrants from entering the outer border of the EU which is right at that sea border. But you know, sea borders are very hard to patrol even when you do have resources, so the Greeks say, OK, this is a highly political gesture. It's Merkel cracking down on Greece and Turkey with these big ships, so it's going to strengthen her position at home.

SHAPIRO: In that case, why did the Greeks agree to this?

KAKISSIS: You know, at this point, Greece really has no choice, does it? It doesn't really have any bargaining power. It's a small country that's economically weak, and it needs anything, any kind of helping, even a gesture in managing migrant crisis. Turkey has done very little to stop smugglers from launching these boats with migrants to Greece.

And you know, this plan was worked out between Germany and Turkey, so this may be a way to get the Turks to actually do that, to stop the boats from launching, to do something. And from what I understand, Greece and Turkey will each have one of the NATO ships, and the other two will be sent by Germany and Canada. The only conditions that the Greeks really had was that the Greek defense minister, Panos Kammenos, said we want territorial rights respected, like, for example, that the Greek ship will patrol the Greek waters, and the Turkish ship will stay in the Turkish waters. And the other two ships will apparently go back and forth.

SHAPIRO: You've just returned from the island of Lesbos where most asylum seekers entering Europe by sea arrive. How are things there working right now?

KAKISSIS: Well, you know, the EU border agency that's called Frontex - they've already increased their presence there on the Greek side of the Aegean. They've added ships to patrol the sea and police to screen and fingerprint migrants. We saw several more Frontex ships there patrolling the sea. And the Greek army's also expected to get involved with this main migrant registration center there. It's called a hotspot. But the EU is also trying to press Greece to keep migrants in camps on islands like Lesbos long-term, and that's something that the Greeks don't want.

SHAPIRO: But the Greeks do need help patrolling the sea for these boat with migrants, right?

KAKISSIS: Yeah. I mean, they've needed help for months, you know? Greece has several islands close to Turkey, including Lesbos, and they have big coastlines. But you know, for months, the Greek coast guard just didn't have the resources, you know? It was even expensive to put gas in the boats to patrol. And Frontex only recently got the OK to send more ships and officers to help the Greeks.

SHAPIRO: That's Joanna Kakissis speaking with us from Athens, Greece. Thanks, Joanna.

KAKISSIS: You're welcome, Ari. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Joanna Kakissis is a foreign correspondent based in Kyiv, Ukraine, where she reports poignant stories of a conflict that has upended millions of lives, affected global energy and food supplies and pitted NATO against Russia.