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Turkey rescues 125 people at sea following 'Greek pushback'

Coastguard accuses Greek authorities of illegally forcing the rubber boats to return to Turkish waters
A ship carries out a search and rescue operation in the Aegean Sea (AFP/File Photo)

The Turkish coastguard rescued more than 125 people in the Aegean Sea after they were illegally pushed back from Greek waters, Turkey's coastal authorities said on Sunday. 

Rubber dinghies had been floating off the coasts of Dikili and Menderes districts of western Izmir province before they were spotted by Turkish coastguards, who rescued the group and took them to the migration authorities for processing.

In recent months, Turkey has rescued several inflatable boats carrying people to Greece and has repeatedly accused Greek authorities of carrying out pushbacks at sea, forcing vessels into Turkish waters.

Greece has also been regularly accused by human rights organisations of illegally pushing back people attempting to reach its shores or of failing to provide assistance to vessels in need. Athens has repeatedly rejected the accusations.

As many as 500 people are believed to have died in one single incident in June after the Greek coastguard left a boat stranded at sea for several hours before carrying out a botched rescue attempt.

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Only 104 people are known to have survived, while at least 80 people have been confirmed dead and hundreds have yet to be found. 

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Survivors have blamed the Greek coastguard for causing the boat to capsize after it threw a rope to the overcrowded vessel to tow it back to shore.

They said the rope broke, so the coastguard tied another one onto the vessel, which then caused the boat to move forward before turning abruptly left and right.

The Greek coastguard has vehemently denied it had made "any move" that could have endangered people on board the boat.

"I don't know who these people are and what they are alleging, but even after the boat sank, they were not in the sea for three hours. We acted immediately. This is bullshit," said Nikos Alexiou, a spokesperson for the coastguard.

Greece has come under increasing scrutiny over its response to the disaster, which occurred even though the boat had been shadowed by its coastguard for several hours.

Greece said the vessel repeatedly refused help, saying instead that it wanted to go to Italy.

Alarm Phone, an advocacy group that was in communication with the boat, said that on several occasions people had pleaded for help and that Greek authorities had been aware of the vessel for several hours.

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