(Vatican Radio) The European commander of the NATO military alliance has ordered three warships to move immediately to the Aegean Sea to help end the deadly smuggling of migrants between Turkey and Greece.
The announcement came after NATO defense ministers agreed to use their maritime force in the eastern Mediterranean to help combat traffickers.
NATO's secretary general Jens Stoltenberg confirmed that the NATO Maritime Group is being ordered immediately into the Aegean Sea to help end human smuggling of migrants between Turkey and Greece.
He said the warships, now under German command, are being tasked to conduct reconnaissance and surveillance to help end Europe's gravest refugee crisis since World War II "without delay."
The order was made by U.S. Air Force Gen. Philip Breedlove, NATO's supreme European commander, Germany and Turkey proposed the deployment to help the continent tackle with the influx of refugees.
More than a million asylum-seekers arrived last year.
However Stoltenberg made clear the warships were not aimed at refugees. "This is not about stopping or pushing back refugee boats. NATO will contribute critical information and surveillance to help counter human trafficking and criminal networks," he said.
And, as part of the agreement, he said, Greek and Turkish armed forces "would not operate in each other's territorial waters or airspace". Both NATO members have been at loggerheads over Cyprus. The island has been split along ethnic lines since a Turkish invasion in 1974 triggered by a brief, Greek-inspired coup.
It was unclear whether the NATO warships would also be able to end human suffering: Many refugees have drowned. The International Organization for Migration estimates that at least 374 migrants fleeing war and poverty, including many children, drowned this year alone in the Aegean Sea.