ATHENS – Greece’s attempts to keep out refugees and migrants, including boasts none could get through, didn’t keep 138 of them crossing from Turkey over the treacherous Evros River.
Greek radio reports said the group included many children who wee found by border guards and rescue teams on a small islet on the Greek side of the river where many have drowned trying to cross since incursions in 2015.
A spokesman for the Greek border police told the Greek radio channel RealFM that all migrants were “taken to safety” in smaller groups and that 53 were minors, the report coming as Greece is denying constant reports of pushing back refugees.
“They said they were from Syria,” he said, claiming that Turkish authorities made no attempt to stop them amid reports Turkey lets human traffickers keep operating during an essentially-suspended 2016 swap deal with the European Union.
The incident came as five Greek police officers on the border patrol were charged with working with smugglers to bring people across to make money but no names were given.
Newly re-elected Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has often threatened to unleash hordes of the some 4.4 million refugees and migrants his country his holding after they went there fleeing war, strife and economic hardship in their homelands, primarily Syria and Afghanistan.
Greece has been trying to seal off its borders, including extending a steel wall near the river, beefing up patrols, adding electronic surveillance and even drones to try to detect people trying to cross, which didn’t work in this case.
Greek border authorities said they have kept out some 256,000 people just along the river, not counting how many have been repelled trying to reach five Greek Aegean islands near Turkey’s coast.
Human rights groups, activists, NGO’s, volunteers and major media have cataloged what they said is proof Greece is unlawfully pushing back refugees at land and sea to prevent them from seeking asylum after getting in.
Greek authorities countered that Turkey is letting human traffickers keep sending them, violating the 2016 deal, and has gone unpunished while blame is being cast only on Greece, and they said wrongfully so.