CHIOS, Greece – The exodus of Turks fleeing the wrath of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has purged the civil service and military in the wake of a failed, July 2016 coup attempt against him, has seen another 17 seeking asylum in Greece after landing on the island of Oinousses.
That’s just off Chios in the eastern Aegean and almost within hailing distance of the Turkish coast and in an area where Erdogan said he covets the return of islands ceded to Greece in the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne setting borders between the countries he doesn’t recognize.
Greece’s Coast Guard reported the new landings and said the arrivals were mostly civil servants who had been transferred to a refugee and migrant detention center on Chios, among the more than 15,000 from other countries being housed on Greek islands with most also seeking asylum.
The group told Coast Guard officers who took them in after they landed on a beach in a small rubber dinghy that they feared persecution in Turkey, as they were civil servants and judicial officials, Kathimerini reported.
More than 1,800 Turks have requested asylum in Greece since the coup against Erdogan led to a purging of Turkish society. They include eight servicemen who stand accused of treason in Turkey, which has demanded their extradition with elements in Greece’s ruling Radical Left SYRIZA saying they should be returned to appease Erdogan and prevent him from letting human traffickers send more refugees and migrants to Greek islands.
In December, 2017, National Public Radio in the United States reported that there were more than 1000 Turkish citizens in Greece seeking refuge although Antonis Spathis, a human rights lawyer in Thessaloniki said it was hard to pin down the number because not many had sought asylum yet.
The Greek Asylum Service told NPR that 186 Turkish citizens applied for asylum in 2016 and noted there has been a “significant” increase in 2017, but did not provide figures, saying those wouldn’t be available until later in 2018.
“Many are in hiding and don’t want to risk revealing themselves by seeking help from the Greek authorities,” said Spathis, who has advised several Turkish citizens who have fled to Greece since last summer’s attempted coup. “Some came to Greece with the intention of going on to other European countries or the U.S., but those pathways are closing,” he said, with the European Union shutting its borders to refugees and migrants and dumping the problem on Greece, which is housing more than 64,000 during a simultaneous economic and austerity crisis.
The Greek government spokesman, Dimitris Tzanakopoulos, declined to comment specifically on Turks seeking refuge in Greece, saying it’s up to the country’s independent asylum service to decide the status of any refugee applications. “We will follow all the legal provisions of international agreements and laws that regulate the asylum process,” he said.
Most Turkish citizens who have fled to Greece are living off their savings, unable to work unless they are granted asylum or a residency permit. A few have enough money to buy property, the NPRO report by Joanna Kakissis said.
And many of the Turks Spathis has met worry that they will never be able to return because, he said, “Erdogan is too powerful. They’ve lost hope that this will change.”