Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis gestures as he answers a question during a joint news conference with Netherlands' Prime Minister Mark Rutte at the Maximos Mansion, in Athens, Greece, November 9, 2021. REUTERS/Louiza Vradi
ATHENS, Nov 9 (Reuters) - Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis angrily defended his government's migration policy on Tuesday in a heated exchange with a journalist who accused him of "narcissistic abuse" during a news conference with the Dutch prime minister in Athens.
"Prime Minister Mitsotakis, when, at last, will you stop lying. Lying about pushbacks, lying about what is happening with the refugees in Greece?" Dutch journalist Ingeborg Beugel asked following joint statements by Mitsotakis and Mark Rutte.
Beugel was referring to allegations by rights groups and organisations including the United Nations' refugee agency UNHCR that Greece is unlawfully pushing asylum seekers back to Turkey on its land and sea borders, a practice Greece denies.
"There has been overwhelming evidence and you keep denying and lying. This is like narcissistic abuse. Why are you not honest? Why don't you say 'Brussels left us alone, we waited for six years, nobody did anything... Now I have a say and yes, I do cruel, barbarian pushbacks.'"
Mitsotakis, whose centre-right New Democracy party came to power in 2019, defended his government's migration policy, calling it "tough but fair", and said Greece was rescuing hundreds of people at sea since 2015, when it was on the frontline of Europe's migration crisis.
"I understand that in the Netherlands you have a culture of asking direct questions to politicians, which I very much respect," he said. "What I will not accept is that in this office you will insult me or the Greek people with accusations and expressions that are not supported by material facts."
Mitsotakis said authorities were "intercepting" boats at sea in accordance with European Union regulations and had granted asylum to 50,000 people, including "tens of thousands of Afghans."
Beugel interrupted him to say conditions were "appalling."
Visibly irate, Mitsotakis hit back: "Look, you will not come into this building and insult me. Am I very clear on this?
He said a newly-built, EU-funded camp on the island of Samos was "impeccable... no comparison to what we had in the past."
Mitsotakis added: "This is our policy, we will stand by it and I will not accept anyone pointing the finger to this government and accusing it of inhumane behaviour."