Greece says it is investigating allegations that migrants were illegally deported back to Turkey

Athens, Greece — Greece’s outgoing prime minister says he has ordered an investigation into a report that authorities illegally deported a group of migrants who arrived on an Aegean island from Turkey and allegedly left them on a raft at sea to be picked up by Turkish authorities. .

Kyriakos Mitsotakis – who was replaced by interim Prime Minister Ioannis Sarmas, a senior judge, on Thursday ahead of the June 25 election – has strongly denied that Greece’s official policy is to return newly arrived migrants to Turkey. Such illegal deportations are called pushbacks.

In an interview with CNN late Tuesday, Mitsotakis said he was taking the alleged incident reported by the New York Times “very seriously.”

“My government is already looking into it,” he said. “I have made a distinction numerous times between (the announced crackdown), which is a completely unacceptable practice, and our obligation, which is to intercept (migrants) at our sea border with Turkey and then ask the Turkish coast guard. to come and take these people.”

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Greece is the main entry point for migrants seeking a better life in the European Union – most of them arrive illegally from Turkey on unseaworthy boats provided by smuggling gangs. Mitsotakis’s government has tightened patrols, significantly reducing the number of arrivals, but human rights groups – and Turkish officials – have repeatedly accused him of crackdowns. Athens strongly denies these claims.

On Tuesday, Mitsotakis accused the Turkish coast guard of an “advance,” saying they were “aggressively pushing desperate people on inflatable boats… into the sea and (pushing) them into territorial waters.”

The New York Times report was based on a video provided by an activist, released two days before Greece’s parliamentary election on Sunday — which Mitsotakis’s center-right party won by a landslide. But he will have to call for new elections in just over a month because the Electoral Law did not give him a government majority.

The report claimed that in early April, the migrants were taken to the Lesvos beach in a van and then taken by speedboat to a Coast Guard vessel. The coast guard allegedly left the migrants on a raft at sea, from where the Turkish coast guard picked them up and took them back to Turkey.

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EU Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson said on Tuesday that the EU had formally asked Athens to investigate the case “fully and independently”.

“There is a need for proper follow-up by the Greek authorities,” he said, adding that the EU executive was “ready to take the appropriate formal steps.”

Commission spokeswoman Anitta Hipper said Monday that Frontex, the EU border agency that helps patrol Greece’s eastern sea borders, has lawyers who can help an independent investigation.

“So far we understand that they have not been able to identify this particular incident, but of course they can follow up on serious incidents that have been reported,” he said.

The Greek Coast Guard did not respond to AP requests for comment on the new denial allegations.


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