Greece says it is probing claim that migrants were illegally deported back to Turkey

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 eastern Aegean island from Turkey, allegedly sending them to Turkey. A raft was left at sea to pick up the officers.

Kyriakos Mitsotakis – who will be replaced on Thursday by caretaker prime minister Ioannis Sarmas, a senior judge, ahead of elections on June 25 – strongly denied that Greece has an official policy to return newly arrived migrants to Turkey . Such illegal deportation is known as pushback.

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

“My government is already probing it,” he said. “I have drawn a distinction many times between the (reported pushback), which is a completely unacceptable practice, and between our obligation, which is … to stop (migrants) at our sea border with Turkey and then the Turkish Coast Guard Come ask for and pick up these people.”

Greece is a major entry point for migrants seeking a better life in the European Union – most enter illegally from Turkey in boats provided by smuggling gangs. Mitsotakis’ government has tightened patrols, significantly reducing arrivals, but has been accused of repeated pushback by human rights groups – and Turkish officials. Athens consistently denies these claims.

Mitsotakis on Tuesday accused Turkey’s coast guard of a “push-forward”, claiming they “aggressively push desperate people on inflatable boats … into the sea and (push) them into territorial waters”. Let’s go.”

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The New York Times report was based on a video provided by an activist and made public on Sunday, two days before Greece’s parliamentary election – which Mitsotakis’ centre-right party won by a wide margin. But he would only have to seek new elections within a month, as the electoral law did not give him a majority.

The report alleged that in early April migrants were brought by van to a Lesbos beach and taken by speedboat to a coast guard vessel. The coast guard reportedly dropped the migrants off at sea on a raft, from where they were picked up by the Turkish coast guard and taken back to Turkey.

EU Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson said on Tuesday that the European Union has formally asked Athens to “thoroughly and independently” investigate the incident.

“It is essential that appropriate follow-up action is taken by the Greek authorities,” she said, adding that the EU’s executive branch is “ready to take formal steps as appropriate.”

Commission spokeswoman Anita Hipper said on Monday that the EU border agency, Frontex, which helps Greece patrol its eastern sea borders, has authorities who could help support an independent investigation.

“So far, we understand they have not been able to identify this specific incident, but certainly they can follow up on any serious incidents that are recorded,” she said.

Greece’s coast guard has not responded to the AP’s request for comment on the new brawl allegations.


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