ANKARA – Trying to sway international opinion against Greece, Turkey said its Coast Guard rescued 29 refugees allegedly pushed back into Turkish waters in the Aegean Sea by Greek forces.
A report by the Turkish site TRT Word, repeating many previous similar claims, said those on board were forced back although it didn’t mention they had been sent by human traffickers that Turkey allows to operate during an essentially-suspended 2016 swap deal with the European Union.
Under the agreement, Turkey is supposed to contain some 4.4 million people who went there fleeing war, strife and economic hardship in their homelands, especially Syria and Afghanistan.
The refugees and migrants wanted to get to prosperous countries in the EU and began coming in 2016 but after the bloc closed its borders to them the problem was largely dumped on Greece and its islands.
In this case cited by Turkish officials, there were 29 refugees on a life raft allegedly pushed back and taken ashore near the Cesme district of Izmir province, the Turkish Coast Guard Command said in a statement.
Some 21 others were also rescued from a rubber boat that experienced engine failure in Dikili province and taken to a provincial migrant office, the report said.
Turkey’s Vice President Fuat Oktay earlier denounced Greece over the alleged pushbacks, which Greece’s New Democracy government has denied occurred although Turkey produced a video said to show them happening, and similar claims have been made by human rights groups, activists and major media outlets.
Oktay tweeted a video that Turkish officials said showed Greek Coast Guard crew members shooting near refugee boats to scare them off and pushing one of the vessels into Turkish waters.
“Humanity is once again trampled in the Aegean! Shame on you!” he wrote without mentioning Turkey’s role in sending them, for which there has been no penalties from the EU.
He said he had met with European Commission Vice President Margaritis Schinas – from Greece’s ruling New Democracy – to complain about the alleged practice and insisted that Greece and the EU’s border agency Frontex that activists said has been complicit to cease.