Greece is reporting a series of incidents with Turkey’s coast guard in the narrow stretch of water between the eastern Greek island of Lesvos and the Turkish coast, at a time of generally testy relations between the two neighbors and NATO allies.
The Greek coast guard said three incidents occurred Friday morning northeast of Lesvos, an island on the main migrant smuggling route from Turkey to Greece. It said two involved Turkish vessels escorting or pushing dinghies carrying migrants toward Greek territorial waters.
There was no immediate reaction from Turkish authorities.
Turkey and Greece have long traded accusations over the migration issue. The Turkish coast guard, as well as numerous refugee rights organizations and aid groups, have accused the Greek coast guard of conducting pushbacks – the illegal summary deportation of migrants, who have reached Greek territory, back to Turkey without allowing them to apply for asylum.
Greece counters that Turkey not only fails to crack down on migrant smugglers operating from its shores, but even actively encourages and escorts migrants seeking to enter Greece illegally.
“This morning the Hellenic Coast Guard reported multiple incidents of the Turkish Coast Guard and Navy accompanying flimsy migrant boats to the border of Europe in an effort to provoke an escalation with Greece,” Migration Minister Notis Mitarakis said in a statement. “It is beyond doubt that these migrants departed Turkish shores and given the fact they were supported by Turkey, were not at risk.”
Mitarakos called on Turkey to “stand down and stop this unwarranted provocation.”
In the incidents reported Friday, the Greek coast guard said a Turkish patrol vessel entered Greek territorial waters and harassed a Greek coast guard boat by conducting dangerous maneuvers. A video provided by the Greek coast guard shows a clearly marked Turkish coast guard vessel bearing down on the Greek craft at high speed from behind, passing very close to the Greek boat and leaving it rocking in its wake.
In a second incident in the same area, the Greek coast guard said in a statement that a Turkish coast guard vessel was escorting a dinghy with migrants toward Greek territorial waters, and didn’t respond to “repeated efforts of communication” by a Greek patrol boat. The migrant dinghy didn’t enter Greek waters, and the passengers were eventually picked up by a second Turkish coast guard vessel, after the first one had departed, the statement said.
In the third incident in the same area Friday morning, a Greek coast guard vessel located another dinghy with migrants near the border between the two countries, but inside Turkish territorial waters, it said. The statement says two Turkish vessels approached the dinghy and attempted to push it into Greek territorial waters without success. In that case too, the passengers were eventually picked up by the Turkish coast guard, the statement said. [AP]