The European Union’s border agency has requested “clarifications and information” from Greece’s coast guard regarding two reported incidents of migrants allegedly being unlawfully deported back to Turkey after crossing by boat, a European official claimed on Friday.
Frontex’s executive director, Hans Leijtens, has written to a senior police official representing Greece on the Frontex management board, seeking a response by July 10. The agency plays a role in patrolling the eastern borders of Greece, an EU member state.
Due to its position in the Mediterranean and proximity to several transit points for migrants and illegal trafficking, Greece is among the European countries most affected by inflows of migration.
European Union questions alleged deportation of migrants by Greece
In recent years, Greece’s center-right government has significantly increased patrols in the eastern Aegean Sea, leading to a significant reduction in the number of migrants from the Middle East and Africa attempting to cross in small boats from neighboring Turkey.
Athens has faced repeated accusations of engaging in “pushbacks,” an illegal practice where migrants who enter Greek waters are allegedly returned to Turkey’s maritime jurisdiction without the opportunity to apply for asylum.
The sinking of a boat carrying hundreds of migrants in the deepest part of the Mediterranean Sea on June 14, has again brought the issue of migrant crossings to the forefront of international news. In the aftermath of the incident, questions were raised about the Greek Coast Guard’s response by some international media outlets and politicians.
However, the Greek government denies these accusations and argues that its migration policy is “strict but fair.” Earlier this week, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis expressed his belief that it is “a Greek success that far fewer boats set out from Turkey” because “they know that the possibility of reaching their final destination is limited.”
The death toll for migrants crossing the Mediterranean is rising
According to the UNHCR, the UN’s refugee agency, although the total number of migrants who embark upon the dangerous journey has fallen since the peak in 2015, the number of those who are killed during the endeavor has in fact risen.
“[In 2021], some 3,231 were recorded as dead or missing at sea in the Mediterranean and the northwest African routes, with 1,881 in 2020, 1,510 in 2019, and more than 2,277 for 2018,” reported the UNHCR.
For Greece, which is situated at the heart of the Mediterranean Sea, the migrant crossing issue has posed difficult questions. Certain islands like Evros have had to deal with large numbers of migrants attempting to gain access to Europe.