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NATO ships to join migrant patrols in the Mediterranean

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, second from right, delivers opening remarks on the second and final day of a defense ministers meeting at the alliance's headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, on Thursday, Oct. 27, 2016. European Union High Representative for Foreign Affairs Federica Mogherini, left, and NATO Deputy Secretary-General Rose Gottemoeller, second from left, listen.

NATO

By JOHN VANDIVER | STARS AND STRIPES Published: October 27, 2016

NATO warships and aircraft will soon be patrolling the central Mediterranean Sea as part of a new agreement with the European Union, which is attempting to stem the flow of illegal migrants into Europe, the military alliance announced Thursday.

The decision, adopted by NATO defense ministers at the end of two days of talks in Brussels, amounts to an expansion of an alliance effort so far focused exclusively on containing migrant flows across the Aegean Sea into Greece.

“NATO/EU cooperation is now closer than it has ever been before,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said during a closing news conference.

Within two weeks, NATO ships and planes will be in place in the central Mediterranean as part of its new Operation Sea Guardian to assist the EU in curbing illegal migration by boat from North Africa.

Greece and Turkey announced they will provide ships and maritime patrol aircraft to the mission. Spain also will provide air support, and more allies are considering joining the efforts, NATO said.

For the EU, unrest in northern Africa and Syria has brought in waves of migrants, straining the social and political fabric of much of the Continent and threatening to undermine the bloc’s political unity.

NATO also agreed it would extend its effort in the Aegean, which was launched last year in connection with concerns about high numbers of migrants moving from Turkey to Greece.

“We have seen a substantial reduction in the number of illegal crossings,” said Stoltenberg.

Nonetheless, NATO wants to keep ships in the Aegean as a platform for boosting cooperation between allies and the EU, he said.

vandiver.john@stripes.com
 

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