ANKARA — With no proof coming forward yet despite constant allegations, Turkey repeated its claim that Greece is pushing back refugees and migrants – which Turkey allowed human smugglers to keep sending to Greek islands.
Turkey’s Interior Minister said Greece also had abandoned them on lifeboats in the Aegean where they came from Turkey, allowing them to keep coming during an essentially-suspended 2016 swap deal with the European Union.
Suleyman Soylu said the Greek Coast Guard has been sending illegal migrants stranded on islands to Turkish territorial waters where he said they had been picked up and saved by the Turkish Coast Guard, adding they were abused.
The Greek Coast Guard has been been engaged in “torture and inhumane treatment every day,” he tweeted to Greek Minister for Migration and Asylum, Notis Mitarachi said the news site Russia Today.
Soylu also posted a video supposedly showing a Greek Coast Guard vessel allegedly abandoning life rafts filled with migrants in the Aegean Sea to be picked up by Turkish ships.
“Watch your forces engaging in (an) inhumane action,” he said, adding that the EU border guard FRONTEX is “complicit” in this practice while the bloc simply “ignores” it.
FRONTEX chief Fabrice Leggeri, has the support of the bloc’s top migration official although European Parliament lawmakers wanted him to quit, citing claims by human rights groups the agency helped hide Greece pushing back refugees and migrants.
A spate of media reports claimed that Greek authorities, with the complicity of FRONTEX, pushed refugees and migrants back out to sea toward Turkey and across land borders.
Asked whether she still has confidence in Leggeri, EU Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson said simply "yes," without elaborating after she earlier said the allegations were "not acceptable, and they have to be investigated and clarified."
Turkey is supposed to contain some 4.4 million refugees and migrants who went there fleeing war and strife in their homelands, especially Syria and Afghanistan, as well as economic hardship in sub-Saharan Africa and other countries but hasn’t been sanctioned for letting them go to Greece.
Five Greek islands near Turkey’s coast, led by Lesbos, have been the prime destination and some 34,000 are being held in detention centers and camps along with about another 66,000 in mainland facilities.
EU lawmakers want an independent report into the constant allegations of pushbacks that keep arising even as Greece’s New Democracy denied that the Coast Guard or other officials had done that.
Soylu also posted a link to a statement by the Turkish Coast Guard Command describing some of the most recent incidents involving the Turkish officers rescuing people abandoned by the Greeks. The Turkish Coast Guard picked up a total of 28 people in two instances on Dec. 6 and Dec. 8, he said.
All of those rescued turned out to be members of the same group that was stranded on the Greek island of Farmakonisi not far from the Turkish Anatolia coast for two days before being picked up by the Greek Coast Guard, he added.
He said men were separated from women and children who were put into a lift raft and towed into Turkish waters and left there while the men were kept on the Greek vessel and beaten and had their money and mobile phones stolen.
Turkey’s Ministry also published a video showing a Turkish vessel supposedly rescuing the men and treating them humanely, the migrants showing injuries and scars they allegedly received at the hands of the Greek Coast Guard.
Greek officials, including Mitarachi, are yet to respond to Soylu’s claims but Greece’s New Democracy government has repeatedly denied the unending allegations of pushbacks that were reported by media including The New York Times.
Greece’s government countered that the Turkish Coast Guard was aiding human smugglers there and pushing the rubber dinghies, rafts and rickety craft into Greek waters, trying to get them to Greek islands.
The EU is also worried that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Edogan, as he did in February and March when he had 10,000 refugees and migrants bused to the northern land border along the Evros River and urged them to cross into Greece might do so again.
Turkey currently holds the largest refugee population in the world, with the government estimating that there are 2.23 million Syrians displaced by that country’s long-running civil war, the report on alleged pushbacks said.