German envoy says EU rights must be defended at Greek border

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Germany’s top diplomat visited refugees at a camp in Greece on Thursday after stressing that European Union countries should do more to safeguard people seeking refuge from war and hardship.

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock visited a Holocaust memorial in Athens before sitting down with refugees at a camp west of the city. She used the visit to promote what she called “a common European sea rescue policy” and to oppose summary deportations of asylum-seekers and migrants.

“Our European values also apply at the European external border. If we don’t defend them there, they will perish,” Baerbock said in an interview with the Athens daily newspaper Ta Nea published Thursday.

Greece intercepts boats transporting migrants and asylum-seekers heading to its eastern islands from the nearby coast of Turkey. Human rights organizations allege the country carries out summary deportations, known as pushbacks, which the Greek government denies.

The EU border protection agency Frontex has reported a sharp rise in unauthorized border crossings following the relaxing of travel restrictions related to the coronavirus pandemic. The agency said illegal crossings were up by 84% in the first six months of the year compared to the same period in 2021.

The largest increases were recorded in the eastern Mediterranean, up 125%, and the Western Balkans, where illegal crossings rose 191%.

Police in North Macedonia said 88 migrants from Syria, Pakistan, India and Yemen were found crammed into a truck near the southern border town of Gevgelija. The 35-year-old driver was arrested.

Baerbock is a former leader of a Green party that is a junior partner in Germany’s center-left coalition government. She is scheduled to meet Friday with Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, and Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias.

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