ATHENS – While denying reports that refugees and migrants were being pushed back on land and sea, Greece’s New Democracy government is trying to keep them out, the Coast Guard saying it repelled 1,130 crossing on boats from Turkey.
Human smugglers are allowed to operate in Turkey, violating an essentially-suspended 2016 swap deal in which that country is supposed to contain some 4.4 million refugees and migrants who went there fleeing war, strife and economic hardship in their homelands, primarily Syria and Afghanistan.
While many try to get across the land border along the Evros River, where a wall is being lengthened to keep them out, most choose going across the Aegean in rubber dinghies and rickety craft to get to Greek islands.
Scores have drowned since refugees and migrants began coming in 2015 and the Coast Guard and European Union border patrol Frontex scour the sea, having conducted rescues but now Greek crews trying to keep them out.
Most of the interceptions came near the most popular destination for them, Lesbos, one of five Aegean islands holding refugees and migrants in detention centers, most wanting asylum.
The Coast Guard said in a three-day period up to June 27 that it had turned back boats in 24 incidents, following the government’s hardened anti-refugee line after the country had been celebrated for bringing them in.
“Off Lesbos alone, 745 migrants attempted to enter Greek territorial waters in 16 incidents,” the Migration Ministry said, adding that all 24 boats with migrants were located before entering Greek territorial waters, and that “all foreign passengers were collected by the Turkish Coast Guard.”
According to statistics from the Hellenic Coast Guard, in the period between June 21-27 that 27, 3,534 people were prevented from entering the country, specifically via the islands of the eastern Aegean. Another 3,515 were prevented in May from entering, said Kathimerini.
The entry of about 4,000 immigrants and refugees was prevented between January and April in 2021 compared to 12,000 in the same period this year despite vows to keep them out.
Greece has toughened its migration policys, defending its decision to carry out regular interceptions of boats at sea ‒ a practice human rights groups argue undermines the right of refugees fleeing danger to seek international protection.
Greece said that most of the people heading for its shores are not at any risk in Turkey, which has taken back only a trickle although the 2016 agreement requires they be accepted back if denied asylum in Greece.
Greece is backing an initiative by Spain, which is hosting a NATO summit in Madrid this week, to deepen Europe’s engagement with countries in the Middle East and North Africa to try and limit migration.
(Material from the Associated Press was used in this report)