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Turkey accuses Greece of leaving 12 migrants to freeze to death

Turkish interior minister says Athens is deliberately pushing back migrants, calling the Greek Border Units 'thugs' 
People walk towards the Turkey-Greece border at Ipsala in Edirne province, northwest Turkey, on 28 February 2020 (AFP)

Turkey blamed Greece on Wednesday for the death of 12 migrants after Greek border guards allegedly stripped them of their clothes and shoes, leaving them to freeze to death. 

“12 of the 22 migrants pushed back by Greek Border Units, stripped off from their clothes and shoes have frozen to death,” Turkish Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu tweeted, calling the Greek Border Units “thugs”. 

Since 2015, Greece has been a transit country for many refugees and migrants seeking to enter Europe. A deal was struck between Ankara and the European Union in 2016, when the EU agreed to pay Turkey to stop refugees and migrants from entering Europe.

The Turkish interior ministry periodically releases video footage and eyewitness accounts of Greek coastguards and police detaining refugees and migrants and sending them back stripped of valuables, in some cases in boats without an engine or oars.

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Middle East Eye has asked for a comment from the Greek law enforcement authorities, but had not received a response by the time of publication.  

Both the United Nations and the EU last year called on Athens to investigate the incidents, which are also documented by international human rights organisations such as Amnesty International. However, Greek officials retorted that Ankara has also been accused of pushing people back along the Syrian and Iranian borders, and even the land border with Greece. 

“I think both sides push the migrants,” a Greek source told MEE in November. “We should end the blame game and try to find a solution to this problem.” 

In a meeting with his Greek counterpart in November, Soylu made four demands, including a halt to Athens' pushing back of people in return for Ankara accepting more than 1,000 migrants who travelled to Greece from Turkish territory, as agreed by the 2016 EU deal that requires Ankara to take back any Syrian refugees who have made it across the Aegean Sea.

The deal also means that for every Syrian returned to Turkey from the Greek islands, another Syrian will be resettled in the EU.

A Der Spiegel report in 2020 said that Greek border guards have been forcing large numbers of migrants and refugees back to sea, at times shooting at their boats, with the complicity of the EU's border protection agency, Frontex.

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