Greece accused neighboring Turkey on Monday of having tried to send nearly 1,130 migrants to the Greek islands in the Aegean Sea in the last three days, whose boats “were spotted and pushed back in time by the Greek port authorities”. . “Turkish smugglers have tried to disembark around 1,130 refugees on the Greek islands in the last three days,” said Yannis Plakiotakis, Greek Minister of Merchant Marine and Island Policy.
“Illegal pushbacks” from Athens
The Greek coast guard “located and repelled the smugglers in 24 separate incidents”, the minister said in an interview with Real FM, a private Greek radio station. The smugglers’ boats attempted to enter Greek waters and more particularly to approach the Greek islands of Lesbos, Chios, Samos, Kos and Rhodes, the Greek coast guard said in a statement.
Sixteen of the 24 boats carrying migrants tried to head south of the island of Lesbos, the main gateway for migrants and refugees from Turkey to Europe, add the coast guard. According to them, “none of these boats managed to enter Greek waters and all foreigners were rescued by the Turkish maritime authorities”.
While NGOs and the media have accused Athens of “illegal pushbacks” in recent years, the Greek coast guard reiterates that it acts in accordance with “national measures to counter migratory pressure”. They claim to take “all appropriate measures for the effective protection of the maritime borders of Greece and the European Union” in “respect for international law and having as a priority the protection of human life at sea”.
More than 600 migrants already prevented from crossing in one day in May
In May, Greek authorities said they had prevented around 600 migrants from crossing the Aegean Sea into Greece from Turkey in one day. According to a source from the Ministry of Migration, the number of migrants coming from Turkey for the first four months of the year was up 30% compared to the same period last year.
“Turkey continues to behave like a pirate state violating international law and endangering the lives of unfortunate people,” said Yannis Plakiotakis on Monday, again accusing Ankara of favoring smuggling networks. Neighbors and allies within NATO, Athens and Ankara, however, maintain a traditionally conflictual relationship which has worsened in recent years, against a backdrop of migration issues but also due to Turkish drilling attempts in the eastern Mediterranean.
Athens called on Turkey to “stop questioning its sovereignty over the Aegean islands”
Two years ago, in March 2020, Ankara opened its doors to Europe and tried to smuggle thousands of migrants through the Greek-Turkish land border, repelled by Athens with the help of the European Control Agency borders, Frontex.
On the territorial claims front, Athens last month called “solemnly on Turkey to stop questioning its sovereignty over the Aegean islands”, in a letter to the UN secretary general. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan recently announced that he will no longer participate in bilateral meetings with Greek leaders that have been held regularly since a 2010 agreement between the two countries.
Turkish authorities have also accused Greece of positioning troops on the islands of the Aegean Sea which separates the two countries, in violation of peace treaties signed after the first and second world wars.