ΑΤΗΕΝS – How many refugees and migrants arrived in Greece – or were rescued at sea trying to get there from Italy – is uncertain after two key ministers gave conficting numbers.
In a report, the site InfoMigrants said that the Swiss newspaper Neue Züricher Zeitung said there there appeared to be a discrepancy between the number of migrants registered as arriving in 2021 by both the Greek government and the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and what the Greek Ministry for Maritime Affairs said had been rescued by the Coast Guard.
Migration Minister Notis Mitarakis and the UNHCR said 8,000 people came from Turkey in 2021, where they had first gone fleeing war, strife and economic hardship in their homelands, half by sea and half by land.
Mitarakis tweeted how pleased he was to have achieved the “lowest migration flows since the beginning of the (migrant) crisis” that began in 2016 and is continuing under an essentially-suspended 2016 swap deal between Turkey and the European Union.
The minister said the low figures had been achieved “with hard work.” Mitarakis added that this work had allowed the Greek government to “regain control,” under the New Democracy harder line against arrivals.
But the paper said that Maritime Affairs Minister Ioannis Plakiotakis on Dec. 24, 2021 released a statement on his website that more than 29,000 refugees and migrants had been rescued although human rights groups and activists claimed constant pushbacks, which the government denied.
Plakiotakis spoke out after three separate drowning incidents killed at least 30 people just before Christmas and said he wanted to express his “deepest sorrow for the loss of those who lost their lives.” He called these migrants “victims of ruthless murderers who are left to act uncontrollably in Turkey.”
InfoMigrant said the left the question of whether there were 25,000 migrants really rescued and where they were, the Swiss paper wondering if they were pushed back in violation of international law.
Turkey though, which also claimed pushbacks, hasn’t been sanctioned for letting human traffickers continue to keep sending them and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused of using them as political weapons to pressure the EU for more concessions.
The site said it asked the Greek Migration Ministry for a comment about alleged pusbacks and that the Swiss paper also asked questions about the discrepancy in numbers but that neither got any answers.
The paper said it asked the UNHCR what could have happened to these migrants and was told that since March 2020 there had been no formal returns from Greece to Turkey as required under the EU deal.