From file: Members of the Turkish Coast Guard take migrants, who were allegedly pushed back from the Greek side, on a boat during a patrol to search and rescue for migrants offshore the Ayvalik district in Balikesir, Turkey, April 10 2021 | Photo: Erdem Sahin / EPA
From file: Members of the Turkish Coast Guard take migrants, who were allegedly pushed back from the Greek side, on a boat during a patrol to search and rescue for migrants offshore the Ayvalik district in Balikesir, Turkey, April 10 2021 | Photo: Erdem Sahin / EPA

Greece has once again blamed Turkey for "violating its obligations" after rescuing 10 migrants from a capsized vessel in the Aegean Sea on Friday that - says Greek Migration Minister - "was allowed to depart from Turkish territorial waters."

The Greek government has once again blamed Turkey for "violating its obligations" after the Greek Coast Guard rescued 10 migrants from a capsized vessel in Turkish waters in the Aegean Sea on Friday.

A search and rescue operation was still underway at the time of writing to locate a further three people who remained missing after a rubber dinghy carrying migrants sank along the maritime border between Lesbos and the Turkish coast, Greek Coast Guard authorities said.

The nationalities of the 10 people who were rescued earlier in the day were not immediately available. The search operation involved Coast Guard and Frontex vessels, a Super Puma helicopter and aircraft, as well as a vessel which had been sailing nearby.

Greece's Migration Minister Notis Mitarakis spoke in parliament on the matter, as well as releasing a public statement.

'Turkey allowed the departure', says Greek minister

Mitarakis said: "Turkey, in violation of its obligations under the 2016 EU-Turkey Joint Statement, allowed a boat with at least 13 people to depart from Turkish territorial waters. The boat capsized in Turkish territorial waters."

The minister went on to add that, "officers of the Hellenic [Greek] Coast Guard rescued 10 people. So far the Turkish Coast Guard has not contributed to the rescue operation despite the fact that the people in danger were located north of Lesbos, in Turkish territorial waters. Greece saved and continues to save lives in the Aegean. Lives that Turkey is constantly jeopardising. Instead of cutting off illegal departures from its shores, Turkey is making propaganda, videotaping alleged pushbacks."

Mitarakis once more stressed that Greece was, is and will continue to protect its borders, and mentioned that arrivals of migrants from the Turkish coast to the Greek islands were 96% lower in the last 12 months compared with the previous 12-month period.

"The government's policy is clear, we do not want to be the gateway for smuggling networks into the European Union," Mitarakis said. "We have denied hundreds of millions of euros from the smugglers of human pain, who operate to the east of our country. Our country has land and sea borders."

Greek Migration Minister Notis Mitarakis | Photo: Greek migration ministry
Greek Migration Minister Notis Mitarakis | Photo: Greek migration ministry

Strained relations

This latest incident is set to further strain relations between the two countries over the ongoing refugee crisis. Only two days ago on Wednesday, Greece submitted a new request to Frontex and the European Commission for the immediate return to Turkey of 1,908 illegal economic migrants living in identification centers on the country's Aegean islands.

Mitarakis made the request via a letter to the Vice-president of the European Commission, Margaritis Schinas, the Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson, the Commissioner for Neighborhood and Enlargement Olivér Várhelyi, and the Head of Frontex Fabrice Leggeri, asking that the migrants be returned to Turkey, since they are not entitled to international protection, based on the 2016 EU-Turkey Joint Declaration.

Greece has recently been at pains to follow through on its migration policy relating to Turkey, declaring the neighboring country a "safe country" for asylum seekers for the first time in a landmark decision recently.

That announcement referred to refugees and migrants who are seeking asylum from Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Somalia, and was based on a recent recommendation by Greece's Asylum service and all the latest information regarding the living conditions and human rights enjoyed by these particular groups of asylum seekers.

Return to Turkey

It has been established that these groups face no risk on the grounds of race, religion, nationality, political belief or social status. The return to Turkey of those who entered Greece from the neighboring country and are not entitled to international protection can take place on the basis of the first paragraph of the joint EU-Turkey declaration, which states that all migrants who have entered Greece from Turkey after March 20, 2016 and are not entitled to international protection, will return to Turkey.

The return process had been on hold since March 15, 2020, when Turkey cited difficulties caused by the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic.

For the last 17 months, Turkey has refused to implement its commitments, and continues to refuse to engage in any way on the issue. However, the introduction of rapid screening procedures for COVID-19 in Greece and the significant acceleration of the asylum process mean that the right conditions do exist for the resumption of the safe return process for those foreigners who are not entitled to international protection and entered Greece from Turkey.

 

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