ATHENS – Greece’s New Democracy government, facing a firestorm of criticism after Turkey claimed 19 refugees were stripped by Greek guards and pushed back across the border- freezing to death – has again dismissed claims of inhuman treatment.
“Turkey has enormous responsibilities for the instrumentalization of refugees,” said government spokesman Giannis Oikonomou, reported Kathinerini after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan repeated allegations Greece has pushed back refugees and treated them inhumanely.
He didn’t mention that Turkey, under an essentially-suspended 2016 swap deal with the European Union, is supposed to contain more than 4 million of them but has allowed human traffickers to operate, especially targeting Greek islands, for which Turkey hasn’t been sanctioned.
The torrent of allegations against Greece is seen as part of a Turkish effort to discredit the government and a propaganda campaign, the paper said, and exploit the refugee crisis as Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis is building international alliances against Turkish provocations over seas disputes.
Migration Policy Minister Notis Mitarakis also rejected assertions by Turkish Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu that the refugees found dead had crossed the land border before having their clothes and shoes taken by Greek guards and pushed back to their death in freezing temperatures.
Erdogan blamed Greece for the deaths of the refugees, found in Ipsala, Turkey, saying that, “It is not the first time we see this attitude from Greece,” the paper said.
“There were many people whose boats were punctured and sunk, sentenced to death. Unfortunately, this is an example of the Greek civilization,” he said, referring to reports by activists and human rights groups that refugees in boats trying to reach Greek islands were pushed back by Greece’s Coast Guard.
Erdogan also blamed the EU for “remaining silent,” while adding that its border agency, FRONTEX, is “useless as it does nothing,” after Soylu said that the EU – which Turkey is trying to join – is “helpless, weak and inhumane.”
The paper said that Erdogan is using the refugee issue to distract attention from a faltering economy and troubles at home as he’s doing with ratcheting up military tension between the countries.
Greece has always denied pushing migrants back after they have crossed from Turkey, even after the United Nations documented such cases, said The New York Times, which has written extensively about alleged pushbacks.
“These migrants never made it to the border,” said Mitarachis, “Any suggestion they did, or indeed were pushed back into Turkey, is utter nonsense,” the paper added.
Turkey is a major route for migrants from Asia, Africa and the Middle East trying to reach European countries and since 2015, when more than a million migrants crossed into Europe, they have been traveling mostly to Greece.
They went to Turkey fleeing war, strife and economic hardship in their homelands, mostly Syria and Afghanistan, but as far away as Pakistan and Bangladesh and sub-Saharan Africa.
Soylu, on Twitter, posted blurred pictures of eight men lying beside a muddy road, some without shirts and others in shorts.
Ipsala’s Mayor Abdullah Naci Unsal, said pushbacks from Greece had increased since 2020, when Erdogan declared that he was opening the border gates to refugees and urging them to cross into Greece.
“They are generally deported at night,” Unsal told the paper. “They gather them there, take everything they have, phones and so on, throw their clothes into the water and then push them back,” he said of the Greek border guards.
The border includes the treacherous and icy Evros River, where scores of refugees and migrants have drowned trying to cross to get into Greece and seek asylum after other EU countries closed their borders to them.