Greece ‘pushing back’ migrants across sea to Turkey - AP

Greece has been accused of “pushing back” migrants across the sea towards Turkey, the Associated Press reported on Friday.

The Turkish coastguard has been rescuing migrants in lifeboats sent back by Greek authorises in the Aegean Sea, the newswire said. 

“They took our phones and said a bus will come and take you to the camp,” one migrant who had arrived in Greece told AP. “But they took us and put us on a ship. They left us on the water in a very bad way on these boats.”

Irregular migration has become an increasingly contentious issue between Turkey and its neighbours in the European Union, particularly Greece, which functions as a key transit point for those moving from the Middle East and elsewhere into Europe.  

Under a deal signed between Turkey and the EU in 2016, Ankara said it would seek to stop undocumented migrants arriving via sea to Greece and take back any that successfully made the journey. In return, the EU pledged funding to improve the humanitarian situation for the near 4 million refugees living in Turkey, predominantly from the conflict in Syria and promised to update the customs union between the bloc and Turkey and visa-free travel for Turkish citizens.

However, the agreement has repeatedly run into difficulties. In March, Turkish President Recep Tayip Erdoğan declared that the borders with the EU were open for migrants after relations with European governments deteriorated and violence in Syria escalated.

The Greek coastguard has accused their Turkish counterparts of escorting migrant smuggling boats towards the country, Associated Press said.

But the United Nations High Commissioner has also raised concerns “about the increasing reports, since March 2020, of alleged informal returns by sea of persons who, according to their own attestations or those of third persons, have disembarked on Greek shores and have thereafter been towed back to sea”, Associated Press quoted the U.N. refugee agency as saying.