Greece authorities have accused Turkey's coast guard of trying to push into Greek waters a boat with migrants. Athens has called on the EU to put pressure on Ankara to meet its international obligations.
Greek authorities claim that the Turkish coast guard has tried to push a boat of migrants into Greek waters, slamming the Turkish government for "acting like a pirate state."
On Tuesday (November 9), the Greek coast guard published a video of two Turkish patrol vessels appearing to escort a rubber dinghy with about a dozen migrants. The one-minute video shows the Turkish boats making a sharp movement in front of the dinghy. The ships and the dinghy are then seen turning back and, according to the Greek coast guard, sailing towards the Turkish coast.
The Hellenic Coast Guard said in an online statement that the Turkish vessels accompanied the migrant boat off Lesbos, one of the Greek Aegean Islands near Turkey's coast, early Tuesday. According to the statement, Greek coast guard vessels at the scene prevented the dinghy's entry into Greek territories, and the Turkish coast guard boats eventually picked up the migrants after initially refusing to do so.
"Once again Turkey has behaved like a 'pirate state' in the Aegean Sea, breaching its engagements with the European Union," Greek Maritime Affairs Minister Giannis Plakiotakis is quoted in the statement. "The European Union must put much more pressure on Turkey to comply with its international obligations."
Turkey's nonchalance towards smugglers
Greece is one of the EU's top entry points for migrants. Every year thousands of people fleeing conflict or poverty in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia try to reach Europe via Turkey. Ankara has agreed to prevent illegal flows of migrants under a deal with the EU in 2016. From January 2021 till November, 3,302 people have arrived in Greece from Turkey, crossing the Aegean Sea.
But Greece has repeatedly accused Turkey of not taking sufficient action to curb human trafficking.
In March 2020, tension spiked on the land borders between the two countries when Ankara said Turkey is no longer able to hold refugees and prompted hundreds of EU-bound migrants to walk towards the Greek border. In response, Greece deployed its armed forces and used tear gas to stop the migrants from crossing the border.
Turkey, in turn, blames Greece for conducting illegal pushbacks, the act of sending back migrants who make it into its territory without giving them a chance to apply for asylum.
Greece criticized for pushbacks
The video was made public five days after a German MEP, Cornelia Ernst, visited the Greek island of Samos with a team to probe Greece's handling of migrants.
Ernst said the team had found five Somali migrants, who were hiding after arriving the previous night, and handed them over to the Greek police.
"It is clear for me that by finding them and handing them over physically to the Greek police a potential pushback was prevented," she said in a tweet.
"I have read too many well-documented reports of pushbacks to believe that they would have been able to ask for asylum if we had not been there," Ernst added.
In October, an investigation by a group of European media presented evidence that Greek authorities have been violently pushing back asylum seekers crossing the bloc's external borders. In response, Greek Migration Minister Notis Mitarachi has ordered a probe.
Human rights groups have continuously accused the Greece border controls of violently and illegally detaining refugees and migrants, or forcing migrants to return to Turkey on rickety boats.
The Greek government has consistently denied the charges, insisting that saving lives at sea is a priority for the Greek coastguard.