Greek PM denies illegally pushing migrants back to sea after NYT report

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis denied renewed claims of illegal pushbacks of asylum-seekers at sea and accused Turkey of peddling "misinformation" about his country's "tough but fair" border management, Agence France Presse reported on Thursday.

"If there's any incident that needs to be explored, if there's any exaggeration at any given point, I'm going to be the first to look into it," AFP cited Mitsotakis as telling CNN in an interview aired late on Wednesday. "Greece is a country that respects the rule of law, we've granted asylum to tens of thousands of people."

The New York Times published a report on Aug. 14 which said Greece was abandoning migrants at sea for Turkey’s coast guard to rescue and had left more than 1,000 asylum-seekers at sea since March.

The NYT said the article was based on interviews with survivors and cited additional evidence from independent watchdogs, academics and the Turkish coast guard.

However, Mitsotakis said the reports "essentially originate from Turkey".

"Some of these reporters who do these types of exploratory journalism should be more careful in checking their sources," he said.

"These types of reports are also an insult to our coastguard (which) has saved literally tens of thousands of refugees and migrants at sea, and our islands have always provided shelter to those in greater need."

Last month, the Human Rights Watch called on Greece to investigate law enforcement officials accused of violently expelling asylum seekers and migrants back to Turkey and, in some cases, of confiscating and destroying their belongings.

Turkey is home to about 3.6 million Syrian refugees and close to 330,000 so-called people of concern, according to the United Nations refugee agency UNHCR

Ankara had agreed to prevent attempted crossings into Europe following a 2.3-billion euro deal with the EU in 2016, but in February, Turkey announced that it would stop policing the border, prompting an influx of thousands of refugees at its northeastern frontier with Greece. 

Violent clashes erupted soon after between Greek police and refugees. Greek officials in March said they had stopped nearly 10,000 migrants crossing the land border with Turkey.

Turkey closed its borders with Greece on March 18 as part of measures against the COVID-19 coronavirus.