The Greek Coast Guard on Wednesday accused Turkey of forcing an inflatable boat carrying dozens of migrants into its maritime territory. The accusation was made in a statement released yesterday, Tuesday 9 November, on the official website of the Greek institution, accompanied by a one-minute video in which two Turkish boats can be seen escorting the dinghy towards the Greek coast.
The footage "shows, without a doubt, the efforts of Turkish coast guard vessels using dangerous manoeuvres to steer the boat they are escorting towards Greek territorial waters," the coast guard stated in the release. In addition, Greece's maritime affairs minister, Giannis Plakiotakis, said that Turkey "has behaved like a pirate state in the Aegean Sea, in breach of its commitments to the European Union". Athens blames the Ottoman country for not taking the necessary measures to prevent smugglers from sending migrants from Turkish shores in unsafe boats, and calls on the EU to "put more pressure on Turkey to comply with its international obligations".
However, as the statement said, Greek officials managed to prevent the boat from entering Greek waters, which returned to the Turkish coast accompanied by the two Ottoman boats.
In turn, Turkey released a statement today denying these claims, and stating that the events depicted in the images were preceded by the attempt of the irregular migrant boat to enter Greek territorial waters, off the Turkish district of Izmir, at 9.00 local time. In response to this, according to the statement, Greek Coast Guard units tried to push the boat towards the Turkish coast, causing waves.
"Despite all calls made to them, Greek coast guard units pushed the migrants back into Turkish territorial waters instead of rescuing them, and a total of 32 irregular migrants in rubber dinghies were rescued by Turkish coast guard boats," the statement said.
The relationship between Greece and Turkey has become more delicate since the signing of the EU-Turkey deal in March 2016, through which the Ottoman country pledged to stop the flow of migrants and asylum seekers heading towards European territory - especially towards Bulgaria and Greece - while in return receiving billions of euros in financial aid from the European Union. However, Turkey, which already hosts more than 4 million refugees, complains that Greece treats migrants "inhumanely", carrying out summary deportations and denying refugees access to the asylum application procedure. Greece, on the other hand, claims that Turkey, with a huge migrant population, encourages and facilitates attempts to cross into European territory, in violation of the 2016 agreement.
In addition to the accusations levelled against Greece, there are also those made by various human rights organisations and groups, including the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which blame Greece for illegally forcing asylum seekers to return to Turkey. This is reflected in reports such as the one published by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) or the one published by Amnesty International in June, which also stated that the return of migrants has already become a de facto border policy for Greece.
For his part, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mistotakis, in a press conference with his Dutch counterpart, Mark Rutte, defended Greece's right to intercept boats from Turkey; "as we have the right to do according to European regulations, and we are waiting for the Turkish coast guard to come and pick them up and send them back to Turkey". He maintained that the strict controls on asylum policies at Greece's borders are "tough but fair", and that "they will be maintained".