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Turkey Says 8,000 Coup Backers Fled to Greece, Seek Asylum

The National Herald

FILE - One of eight Turkish soldiers who landed in Greece after fleeing a failed coup is being escorted at the Asylum Agency in Athens, Jan. 8, 2018. (Photo by Eurokinissi/Stelios Misinas)

With tensions still high between the countries, Turkey's Interior Minister, Suleiman Soylu, said at least 8,000 backers of a Turkish cleric now based in the United States who Turkey accuses of organizing a failed coup against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in July 2016 escaped to Greece.

Soylu said they were members of the movement of Fethullah Gulen and fled Turkey by using the same routes that human traffickers do when sending refugees and migrants to Greece. After the coup, Erdogan purged civil society, the military and courts and started cracking down on dissidents and jailing journalists while pushing his country's candidacy for the European Union.

Members of the movement, known as FETO in Turkey, are accused of belong to a now illegal organization blamed by the Turkish government and the ruling AKP party for the coup debacle that saw Erdogan narrowly escape an assassination attempt.

In a press briefing and in response to a question on whether ISIS terrorists are posing as "migrants and refugees" in order to infiltrate Turkey, Soylu added that this was also routine practice by the PKK and FETO, outlawed there as terrorist groups, said Kathimerini.

Soylu said alleged FETO members use the land route to reach Greece through Thrace that is separated by the Evros/Maritsa River, the spot where human traffickers send refugees and migrants into Greece, a number drowning trying to get across.

In February this year, data from Greece's asylum service put the number of Turks who fled the coup and were seeking asylum at 7, 137, many of them professionals. That was a record number of applications and an astronomical jump from 2013-15 when only 100 asylum requests from Turkish nationals were filed, the report added. There was no information on how many have been granted beyond the first approval on July, 21, 2017 to a 25-year-old Turkish citizen.

After the summer of 2016, Greek authorities had focused their attention to the eastern Aegean where they expected most Turkish arrivals to arrive and the favored route by migrants and refugees who first went to Turkey as a jumping-off point to get to Greece in hopes of reaching other more prosperous European countries before the borders were closed to them.

Most of those who manage to enter the country head to Athens or Thessaloniki where unofficial support networks have been established by Turks, the paper said.