Turkey, which hosts about 4 million refugees, accuses Greece of large-scale pushbacks — summary deportations of asylum seekers without access to asylum procedures, in violation of international law.
The Turkish coast guard says it rescued over 300 migrants “pushed back by Greek elements to Turkish waters” this month alone while also accusing the European Union of turning a blind eye to what it says is a blatant abuse of human rights.
Citing what they say are credible reports, international rights groups have called repeatedly for investigations.
Associated Press journalists on a Turkish government-organized coast guard ride-along were aboard the patrol boat that picked up the 37 migrants, including 18 children, from two orange life rafts in the Aegean Sea on Sept. 12.
Two other media organizations on similar government-organized trips in the same week witnessed similar scenes.
“They took our phones and said a bus will come and take you to the camp,” Omid Hussain Nabizada said in Turkish. “But they took us and put us on a ship. They left us on the water in a very bad way on these boats.”
Greece, which lies on the EU’s southeastern border and has borne the brunt of migration flows from Turkey, denies the allegations and in turn accuses Ankara of weaponising migrants.
In March, Turkey made good on threats to send migrants to Europe, declaring its borders with the EU open. In what appeared to be a government-organized campaign, thousands headed to the Greek border, leading to scenes of chaos and violence.
Turkey’s border with EU member Bulgaria was largely unaffected. Greece shut its frontier and controversially suspended asylum applications for a month.
Greece’s coast guard says Turkey’s coast guard frequently escorts migrant smuggling boats toward Greece, and has provided videos to back its claims. It says under a 2016 EU-Turkey deal to stem migration flows, Turkey has an obligation to stop people clandestinely entering Greece.
Uneasy neighbours Greece and Turkey have been at loggerheads for decades over several territorial issues, and asylum-seekers have found themselves caught up in the geopolitical conflict.
Tension between the two countries rose dramatically this summer over eastern Mediterranean maritime boundaries, leading to fears of war.
The persistent allegations of pushbacks of migrants are the latest manifestations of these tensions.
Human Rights Watch has accused Greece of summarily returning migrants across land and sea borders with Turkey, citing interviews with asylum-seekers.
Other rights groups and refugee organizations, including the UN refugee agency, have repeatedly called on Greece to investigate what they say are credible reports and testimony of such expulsions occurring.
“UNHCR is particularly concerned about the increasing reports, since March 2020, of alleged informal returns by sea of persons who, according to their own attestations or those of third persons, have disembarked on Greek shores and have thereafter been towed back to sea,” the agency said in August.
UNHCR Assistant High Commissioner for Protection Gillian Triggs, reiterating the call for an investigation, said that “with our own eyes on Lesbos, it was quite clear no boats were coming through” recently. (Source: Mainichi Japan)