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Greece denies deliberately sinking refugee boat

Greek authorities call footage of incident 'lies' as Turkey is accused of forcing refugees back across the border into Syria
Greek authorities say their coastguard has saved 90,000 people this year in search and rescue operations (AFP)

The Greek coastguard has denied that it attempted to deliberately sink a boat filled with refugees after footage published last week appeared to show an official piercing a rubber dinghy in waters between Turkey and Greece.

The footage, published on Friday by the Turkish government, appeared to show a man on a Greek coastguard vessel deliberately piercing a rubber boat packed with more than 30 refugees.

In a statement released over the weekend, the Greek coastguard said the footage was “doctored” and had been filmed during a joint rescue operation between Turkish and Greek forces.

The statement said it was “contradictory” to allege that Greek authorities would destroy a boat packed with refugees given that “the Hellenic coastguard, from early 2015 until today, has saved some 90,000 refugees from the sea”.

A spokesperson told Middle East Eye on Monday that media reports alleging sabotage of the refugee boat were “lies”. It is not believed that a further investigation will be carried out.

Amnesty International has said it is “profoundly concerned” by the footage, pointing out that Greece has been accused of illegal “push-back” operations - when border officials prevent people from entering a territory to claim asylum – four times in the past year.

The Turkish government – which was responsible for leaking the clip last week – also came under fire on Monday for its alleged push-back operations.

In a new report by Human Rights Watch, 51 Syrians interviewed in the second half of October 2015 said they had witnessed Turkish border guards beating refugees and pushing them back into Syria.

“Turkey’s border closure is forcing pregnant women, children, the elderly, the sick, and the injured to run the gantlet of Turkish border officials to escape the horrors of Syria’s war,” said Gerry Simpson, a senior refugee researcher at Human Rights Watch.

“Turkey has generously hosted Syrians and is entitled to closely control its borders for security reasons, but it should not be forcing asylum seekers back to a war zone.”

Over two million Syrian refugees are registered in Turkey, with fresh air strikes by Russia forcing a new outflow.

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