Greece’s migration minister has accused neighboring Turkey of allegedly endangering migrants at sea and ignoring an agreement with the EU to stem illegal migration into Europe, citing survivor testimony from a recent boat accident in the Aegean.
In a letter to European Commission vice-president Margaritis Schinas and other European Union officials, Notis Mitarakis said the allegations stemmed from an incident just inside Turkish waters on July 30 that left three people missing. The Greek coast guard rescued another 10 migrants, nine inside Turkish waters and one who had swum into Greek waters.
Mitarakis claimed in the letter published Tuesday that the Turkish coast guard had detected and approached the inflatable dinghy after it left Turkey’s shores, heading for the Greek island of Lesvos.
“According to testimony, not only did it not try to deter (the boat) but allowed it to continue on its course, to illegally enter European Union waters,” he said in the letter released by the Migration Ministry.
Mitarakis also claimed that the Turkish patrol vessel raised waves that led to the boat’s capsizing. “Afterwards, instead of immediately carrying out a search and rescue operation, the Turkish vessel left the spot,” he wrote.
Greece and Turkey are historic regional rivals. They frequently trade accusations on the treatment of people fleeing war or poverty in the Middle East, Africa and Asia who cross from Turkey to Greece’s nearby islands in small boats provided by smuggling rings.
Under a 2016 agreement with the EU, Turkey committed to control migratory movements towards Europe, after about a million people entered the continent through Greece in 2015.
Rights groups and migrants have repeatedly accused Greece of carrying out illegal summary deportations of people who arrive on the islands without giving them the chance to apply for asylum. Greek authorities vehemently deny that, but say they robustly patrol the borders. [AP]