A sharp increase in migrant arrivals on the shores of the Aegean islands is being read as a reaction by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to reports of certain European Union member-states refusing to foot the bill of an EU-Turkey migration deal, Kathimerini understands.
After several days of no arrivals on the eastern Aegean island of Chios, 177 migrants reached its shores on Wednesday.
An official at the Citizens’ Protection Ministry said the sudden influx appeared to be politically motivated. “What happened yesterday… clearly proves that the Turkish president controls the flows toward Greece and, by extension, to the European Union,” the official said.
Tensions have peaked in the Aegean in recent weeks with a spike in Turkish violations of Greek air space – there were 31 on Wednesday – and disputes at sea.
On Wednesday efforts by the Hellenic Coast Guard to rescue 40 migrants from a dinghy off Chios were hindered by a Turkish Coast Guard boat. Initially the Turkish vessel did nothing to stop the smuggling boat crossing into Greek waters but, once it did, it intervened, claiming the Greek vessel was in Turkish waters. Eventually the Turkish boat withdrew and the rescue operation was completed successfully.
The rhetoric of Greek and Turkish officials has also been aggressive. Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim spoke in derogatory terms about Greece on Wednesday. “Don’t take it into account,” he said. “It is smaller than Istanbul.” “But we are neighbors,” he added, “and as long as they stay quiet we have nothing to say.”
Meanwhile in comments from Icaria, Defense Minister Panos Kammenos condemned Turkey. “Our opponent’s provocations, threats and insults don’t scare us,” he said. “Let them claim an inch [of Greek land], if they dare,” he said. “As Greeks, united, we will beat them.” Kammenos also said he would send an additional 3,500 military staff to the Aegean islands and to Evros.
Deputy Defense Minister Fotis Kouvelis, on Skyros, was less aggressive in his rhetoric but called for the “immediate return” of two Greek soldiers who have been in a Turkish prison since they accidentally crossed the border over a month ago.
Ankara’s detention of the soldiers has “exceeded the limits” and appears to be a “show of power,” government spokesman Dimitris Tzanakopoulos said.