Migration Minister Notis Mitarakis has dismissed as “false propaganda” a Turkish government minister’s claim that 12 migrants who froze to death near the Turkish-Greek border had been sent back across the frontier without shoes by Greek guards.
Turkish Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu made the allegation after authorities discovered the bodies near the Ipsala border crossing on Wednesday.
Soylu said on Twitter the 12 people who died were part of a larger group of 22 migrants who were stripped of their shoes and clothing by Greek border security. He did not specify the nationality of the migrants.
The minister didn’t provide further details, but shared blurred photographs of eight of the recovered bodies, including three in shorts and T-shirts.
Soylu accused Greek border units of acting as “thugs” toward migrants while showing sympathy toward members of a network – which Turkey says is behind a 2016 failed military coup – who have escaped to Greece.
He also accused the European Union of being “helpless, weak and inhumane.”
Greece has long denied Turkish claims that its forces push migrants back into Turkey, or sink migrant boats at sea.
Mitarakis dismissed Soylu’s remarks, saying Turkey needed to do more to prevent migrants from setting off from there.
“These migrants never made it to the border,” he said in a statement. “Any suggestion that they did, or indeed were pushed back into Turkey, is utter nonsense.”
Mitarakis accused Turkey of failing to prevent migrants from approaching the border area and undertaking “these dangerous journeys.”
“Instead of accusing others, Turkey should assume its responsibilities if we want to prevent such tragedies from occurring again.”
The International Organization for Migration said it was “horrified” by the reported deaths and that it would follow up the incident with the relevant authorities.
“Mounting reports of pushbacks against people on the move at some European borders and many parts of the world are extremely concerning and should be investigated and action taken,” said Safa Msehli, a spokesperson for the IOM.
“We reiterate that such practices are prohibited under International Law and should not happen under any circumstances,” she said. “The obligation and primacy of saving lives and prioritizing the well-being and human rights of migrants are vital to the integrity of any border.”
The governor’s office for Edirne province, near the land border with Greece, said the deceased included a migrant who died in a hospital after being rescued by Turkish authorities. There was no information on the migrants’ nationalities.
Recently, smuggling gangs have even been piling migrants into yachts heading from Turkey to Italy. Dozens of migrants have died in the central Aegean last month. [Reuters, AP, Kathimerini]