Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Thursday accused Greece’s Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis of telling “lies” about migrant pushbacks and threatened to open the gates for migrants to storm into Greece.
Erdogan’s outburst followed Mitsotakis’s statements on Tuesday when he accused Ankara of “instrumentalizing migration.”
Greek forces are out rescuing people at sea “every single day,” he said. “Yes, we are intercepting boats that come from Turkey as we have the right to do in accordance with European regulation and waiting for the Turkish Coast Guard to come and pick them up to return them to Turkey.
“So rather than put the blame on Greece you should put it on those who have been instrumentalizing migration systematically,” Mitsotakis declared. The Greek premier was responding to a Dutch journalist who also flatly accused him of “lying” on migrant pushbacks in a press conference.
Mitsotakis was speaking soon after Turkey’s Coast Guard had attempted to escort a dinghy with about 40 migrants on board to Greece’s Lesvos island. The incident occurred early in the morning in the sea east of Lesvos.
According to the Hellenic Coast Guard, two Turkish Coast Guard vessels escorted the dinghy with the intention to help it cross into Greek territorial waters.
Erdogan: Mitsotakis tells lies
Erdogan accused Mitsotakis of telling “lies” and “acting dishonestly” during a televised news conference with visiting Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban.
“It is Greece condemning refugees to their deaths in the Mediterranean and Aegean Seas,” Erdogan told reporters, adding Turkey had “all the documents” to prove his claims.
The Turkish leader implicitly threatened Greece with a new wave of migrant flows at its borders: “I have no idea how Greece would handle it if Turkey opened the doors” to migrants attempting to reach Europe, as it briefly did during an escalation of the dispute early last year, Erdogan said.
In March 2020, Turkey encouraged thousands of migrants to march towards the Greek border at Evros.
For days, Greek police and military forces tried to prevent the migrants from crossing illegally into Greece. Frequent clashes erupted at Evros as migrants were setting fires, throwing Molotov cocktails over to the Greek side, and violently trying to pull the border fence down.
Greek and combined European forces which operated in the area, guarding Europe’s external border, responded with tear gas and attempted to keep the fence intact from the aggressive actions of the migrants. In the end they were successful in keeping out the interlopers.
Greece denies migrant pushbacks
In October, the EU executive called for an investigation into alleged migrant pushbacks by Greece, which Athens flatly denies.
The announcement followed reports in the German media outlets Der Spiegel and ARD, according to which some of these operations reportedly turned violent as Greek special forces sometimes concealed their identities when pushing migrants back into the Aegean Sea.
“Some of these reports are shocking,” said EU Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson, adding she expects a thorough investigation into these incidents.
“These reports need to be investigated,” she said, and added that there seem to be indications of orchestrated violence along Europe’s external borders.
Greece denied the allegations. In a statement, Minister for Migration and Asylum Notis Mitarachi said that Athens operates within the parameters of international and European law.
“We strongly deny these allegations. Greek borders are EU borders and we operate within international and European law to protect them. Illegal sea crossings are highly dangerous and they should be prevented in accordance with the 2016 Joint Statement, which the EU needs to ensure is properly enforced. Europe remains the target of criminal gangs who are exploiting people who wish to enter the EU illegally.
“We make no apology for our continued focus on breaking up these human trafficking operations, and protecting Europe’s border,” Mitarachi said.