Greece has lashed out at Turkey, accusing it of pushing distressed asylum seekers into Greek waters, endangering their lives during risky sea crossings to Europe. Athens says such conduct highlights Turkey’s failure to keep its end of a deal with the European Union to stop illegal migration. There has been no comment from Ankara.
Migration Minister Notis Mitarachi voiced the accusation as crews from Greece’s Hellenic Coast Guard recovered the bodies of two women, one of them 30 years old. They drowned after a dinghy packed with 32 other migrants capsized in high seas along the narrow strait that divides Greece and Turkey.
The surviving migrants, including three toddlers, were Somalis, rescued in freezing waters off the island of Lesbos.
Survivor accounts, according to Mitarachi, suggest that while Turkish authorities responded to a distress signal placed by the Somali migrants, they refused to offer assistance.
Instead, the minister said, the Turkish coast guard pushed the craft into Greek waters, watching it sink – a response Greece says warrants a stiff response from the European Union.
Mitarachi said the notion alone of allowing safe passage to a vessel of this type that fails to meet fundamental safety requirements is inconceivable.
But more importantly, Mitarachi said in a speech to parliament, such conduct violates a key 2016 agreement Turkey signed with the European Union, obligating it to stop illegal migrant inflows, not to facilitate them or imperil the lives of asylum seekers.
Calls placed to the Turkish embassy in Athens were not returned.
It is not the first time such accusations have been leveled against Ankara.
In recent months, both Greece and Turkey have repeatedly accused each other of waging illegal pushbacks of refugees and mistreating them.
Additionally, the United Nations’ refugee agency has called out Greece for allegedly underreporting land and sea arrivals from Turkey - a move believed to provide local authorities a free hand to conduct illegal pushbacks.
Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, migration has dropped drastically.
But officials in Athens say the deadly sinking illustrates just how flawed and fragile the migration deal is, not least, as Europe remains reluctant to get tough with Turkey.
Under the deal, almost all migrants illegally entering Greece are deported to Turkey unless granted political asylum. With relations between the two NATO allies at their lowest point because of an energy standoff in the eastern Mediterranean Sea, all forced returns have been halted since March.
And with refugee camps in Greece already overcrowded, even the drips and dribbles of migrants recorded in recent weeks are creating fresh problems.
Greek government data released Thursday showed just 139 migrants deported to Turkey in the first three months of 2020. That’s just a fraction of the nearly 15,000 who have illegally entered this year...adding to the more than 100,000 stuck in the country for years.