Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan made accusations on Wednesday that Greece was engaging in provocations in a phone call with Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel.
The two leaders spoke in a video conference in which Erdogan said that Greece was engaging in pushbacks against migrants and refugees at sea which was contrary to international law. Erdogan insisted to Merkel that Turkey was maintaining a “moderate attitude” in the region amid what he called provocations.
Erdogan also expressed “hope that Germany’s general election process will be beneficial and that the relations between the two countries”. Chancellor Merkel is stepping down from her role as Germany’s leader ahead of new elections in September.
Greece and the “pushbacks” accusations
Greece has been accused of engaging in a policy of using “pushbacks” at sea to turn away migrants and refugees from entering its territory.
Pushbacks are a tactic where security forces turn back people from a nation’s territory, often with methods that involve violence.
Accusations that Greece has used pushbacks against migrants and refugees entering by sea or from Turkey are not new. Since the initial migration crisis in 2014, members of the Hellenic Coast Guard have been accused of sinking vessels at sea and leaving people adrift helplessly adrift on unsafe life boats.
Use of black clad commandos in sophisticated operations has also been recorded. This practice was recently subject to a lawsuit filed by the Lesvos Legal Center nongovernmental organization with the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).
Last year, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) called on Greece to pursue investigations into the practice. A year earlier, the European Commission expressed similar concerns over pushbacks.
The European Union’s border control agency FRONTEX has faced similar accusations of using pushbacks. FRONTEX denies this accusation and said it engages in practices that are in line with international law.
Greece denies Turkish accusations that it violates Muslim rights
The charge from Erdogan came on the same day that a Turkish foreign ministry official made accusations that Greece was discriminating against its Muslims.
Turkish Deputy Foreign Minister Yavuz Selim Kiran visited Thessaloniki and the northern province of Thrace and met with who he described as “representatives of the Turkish community.” He subsequently accused Greek authorities of curbing the religious and linguistic freedoms of the Muslim population there.
“We stand next to our ethnic kin who preserve their identity and religion despite the difficulties,” Kiran added.
Ankara has been constantly raising the supposed issue of the human rights of the Muslim minority in northern Greece, which has further deteriorated bilateral relations between the countries.
In April, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu declared during his joint press conference with his Greek counterpart Nikos Dendias that Greece fails to recognize Turkish Muslims as Turkish Muslims.
Referring to the Turkish minority in Western Thrace, Cavusoglu stated: “If they say they are Turkish, they are Turkish. You have to accept it…Turkey has implemented many inclusive practices with regard to its minorities. Such a positive approach is what we expect from Greece concerning its Turkish Muslim minority in Western Thrace.”
The Greek Foreign Ministry was quick to respond to the accusations, stating that its Muslim minority was in fact “flourishing.”