After another human rights group said it had documented incidents of Greece pushing refugees and migrants back to Turkey – which let human smugglers send them toward Greece, Migration Minister Notis Mitarachi again said it's not true.
"These are part of a broader fake news strategy promoted by Turkey, through certain Non-government organizations and smuggler networks," he told To Vima weekly, as quoted by Agence France-Presse (AFP).
"Investigations until now by (the EU border agency) FRONTEX and the (Greek) coastguard have not confirmed any of the claims," he said.
Greece has consistently denied claims by migrant support groups that it is illegally returning migrants to Turkey in violation of international law, including two reports this past month, said Turkey's propagandist, pro-government paper The Daily Sabah.
Berlin-based rights group Mare Liberum said it found 321 incidents from March to December 2020 involving more than 9,000 people who had been "violently pushed back to Turkey and thus deprived of their right to asylum," the group said.
Another group, Legal Centre Lesvos, said earlier in February that it had been in contact with more than 50 survivors of 17 collective expulsions and the European Union has been investigating whether FRONTEX covered up incidents.
A Washington-based Syrian rights group, the Syria Justice and Accountability Center, last month filed a case with the International Criminal Court (ICC), calling for an investigation into alleged crimes against humanity by Greece for its mistreatment of refugees, including reported migrant pushbacks in the Aegean Sea, the paper said.
Mitarachi insisted that Greece's borders were being guarded "under the framework of international law and European values,” repeating his frequent disclaimers that Greece has not pushed refugees and migrants on boats back into the seas.
Mare Liberum's report said that in addition to the Greek coastguard, FRONTEX and ships under NATO command were also involved in "systematic and illegal expulsions,” but it wasn't reported if any proof was shown.
Members of the European Parliament and activists have called for FRONTEX head Fabrice Leggeri to resign over the operations, but he has refused to do so, insisting his agency is key to the fight against human trafficking, the Turkish paper said.
Turkey said instead of rescuing migrants that FRONTEX boats patrolling the seas try to swamp refugee boats to force them to turn back toward Turkey which is supposed to contain them under an essentially-suspended 2016 swap deal with the EU.
In October, 2020, nearly 30 NGO's called on Greece to open an "urgent inquiry" into allegations that it was systematically pushing migrants back toward Turkey and Turkey's Coast Guard said it rescued over 300 migrants “pushed back by Greek elements to Turkish waters” in September that year.
Pushbacks are unlawful as they prevent asylum-seekers from making claims for refugee status, and if practiced indiscriminately against a group of migrants can constitute "refoulement" – a violation of EU human rights laws and the 1951 Geneva Convention.
Turkey is holding some 4.4 million people who fled war, strife and economic hardships their homelands, who have seen the EU close its borders to them, leaving most to head toward Greece and hope for asylum, joining about 100,000 there.