Nine European Mediterranean countries are holding a summit in Athens on Friday afternoon to discuss issues ranging from climate change to migration and Afghanistan.
The one-day rally, dubbed EUMED 9, brings together leaders from Spain, France, Italy, Malta, Greece and Cyprus, along with recent additions from Slovenia and Croatia . Portugal is sending its Foreign Minister, while European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen will also attend the meeting.
Climate change and its effects on the region will be the first topic of discussion, after this summer saw devastating forest fires sweeping the region. Greece has been particularly hard hit, the country’s worst heat wave in decades fueling hundreds of forest fires which have pushed its firefighting resources to the limit and prompted it to appeal for international aid .
Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis blamed the fires on climate change and pledged to make tackling what he described as a climate crisis one of his government’s top priorities.
Leaders are expected to issue a joint statement at the end of Friday’s meeting “which clearly sets out the priorities of all European Mediterranean countries in the face of climate change,” Mitsotakis said, ahead of a meeting with his Croatian counterpart, Andrej Plenkovic, before the start of the summit.
Migration will be another main topic of discussion, with Greece, Italy, Spain and Malta being on the main routes used by smugglers to bring people into the European Union.
Greece has long been the fastest route to the EU, with its eastern Aegean islands located close to the Turkish coast. Greece and the EU as a whole were keen to avoid a repeat of 2015, when around a million people, many of whom were fleeing the war in Syria, entered the bloc, the vast majority arriving on the Greek islands since then. Turkey.
Alarmed by recent events in Afghanistan, Greece has made it clear that it is further toughening its stance on migration. It has already beefed up border security, using technology and increasing patrols on land and at sea to keep potential migrants out.
The country has also been widely accused by rights groups and migrants themselves of carrying out illegal summary deportations at sea of people who reach the Greek islands, without allowing them to seek asylum. Greek officials vehemently deny the allegations, but say they are vigorously patrolling the land and sea borders.
During the conference, Greece and Cyprus are also expected to address the issue of Turkey, a neighbor with whom they have a series of disputes, including over energy exploration rights in the eastern Mediterranean.
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