Greece claims Turkish coast guard pushes migrants its way

World

Greece Prime Minister Kyrikos Mitsotakis speaks during a press conference after a meeting with his Dutch counterpart Mark Rutte, at Maximos Mansion in Athens, Greece, Tuesday, Nov. 9, 2021. (AP Photo/Michael Varaklas)

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Greece accused Turkey on Tuesday of acting like a “pirate” in waters between the two regional rivals, claiming that its coast guard escorted and tried to push into Greek waters a boat of migrants who were trying to illegally reach Greece.

The Greek coast guard posted a video of a large Turkish patrol vessel and what seems to be a smaller one beside an inflatable dinghy containing dozens of people.

A coast guard statement said the Turkish vessels accompanied the migrant boat off the Greek Aegean Sea island of Lesbos — which is near Turkey’s coast — early Tuesday. It said Greek coast guard vessels at the scene prevented the dinghy’s entry, and the Turkish coast guard boats eventually picked up the migrants after initially refusing to do so.

“(The video) shows, beyond any doubt, the clear attempts by Turkish coast guard craft, using dangerous maneuvers, to direct the dinghy that they are escorting towards Greek territorial waters so that they could illegally enter,” the statement said.

Greece’s minister for merchant marine, Yiannis Plakiotakis, said Turkey “once again, behaved like a pirate state in the Aegean.”

“The European Union must exert much greater pressure on Turkey to comply with its international obligations,” he said.

Thousands of people fleeing conflict or poverty in the Mideast, Africa and Asia try to enter Greece every year from regional rival Turkey. Under a 2016 agreement with the European Union, of which Greece is a member, Turkey vowed to stem the flow of migrants.

But Greece has repeatedly accused Turkey — which has its own large migrant population — of encouraging and facilitating the attempted crossings. Last year, tension spiked on their land border after Turkey waved thousands of migrants towards Greece and Greece deployed police and military to thwart what it called a “hybrid attack.”

Turkey, in turn, accuses Greece — which has stepped up its border patrols — of illegally sending back migrants who make it onto its territory.

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis denied that claim during a press conference Tuesday, arguing that his government follows a “tough but fair” migration policy.

“We are intercepting boats that come from Turkey, as we have the right to do in accordance with European regulations, and waiting for the Turkish coast guard to come and pick them up to return them to Turkey,” he said.

Greece and Turkey, both NATO allies, are also at odds over undersea gas and oil exploration rights.

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Follow AP’s global migration coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/migration

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