ANKARA – After Turkey pulled back thousands of migrants urged to cross the border into Greece, worries are growing that more will be sent so that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan can put pressure on the European Union to revise a 2016 swap deal.
Greek authorities have received information that at least two decommissioned ships carrying large numbers of migrants, similar to a small tanker that ran aground off the island of Tzia in the Cyclades, may be setting sail from Turkey to Greece soon, said Kathimerini.
Sources not identified told the paper that Greece’s Coast Guard and National Intelligence Service (EYP) believe the tanker that crashed into the breakwater at the port of Tzia in high winds while carrying 193 migrants was sent deliberately by Turkey.
The small oil tanker that ran aground off Tzia has been identified as the Dorduncu, a Turkish-flagged ship that was built in 1968. Its passengers, who were able to get off the vessel safely, told investigators that they had paid smugglers in Turkey 5,000 euros ($5433) each for passage to Italy, which was locked down during the COVID-19 Coronavirus crisis.
The ship had reportedly set sail from Canakkale in northwestern Turkey and managed to cross the Aegean undetected by switching off its Automatic Identification System, the report also added, with Greece worried new arrivals could include terrorists and COVID-19 carriers too.
At the Turkish land border, Greece has stepped up the use of drones, as is Turkey to get information about what’s going on at the border.
Sending more refugees and migrants would break terms of the already essentially-suspended 2016 swap deal with the EU which closed its borders to them, although it was also violated when Erdogan opened Turkey’s border but the migrants were repelled by Greek riot police and Army units.
After the deaths of 33 Turkish soldiers in an area of northern Syria they had invaded, Erdogan was worried that would spark another surge in refugees to Turkey that is already holding some 3.3 million from Syria and 2.2 million others.
He had agreed to keep them at bay under the terms of the deal in which Turkey was supposed to get 6 billion euros ($6.52 billion,) visa-free travel for Turkish citizens in the EU and a faster-track entry into the bloc, stalled now for 15 years.
But 3 billion euros ($3.26 billion) has been withheld and Erdogan wants that money released even as he has sent energy ships to drill for oil and gas off Cyprus,a member of the EU, and said he would send them off Crete under a maritime deal with Libya.
The paper said sea patrols are being increased in order to stop human smugglers from sending more refugees and migrants to five islands near Turkey: Lesbos, Samos, Chios, Kos and Leros.
Greek authorities were said to be anxious that Turkey will move from letting the traffickers send small groups in rubber dinghies or rickety craft to an essentially state-sponsored mass incursion in bigger ships, prohibited under the swap deal.