ATHENS, GREECE (AP) – Greece’s outgoing prime minister said he has ordered a probe into a report that authorities illegally deported a group of migrants who had reached an eastern Aegean island from Turkiye, allegedly leaving them on a raft at sea for Turkish authorities to pick up.
Kyriakos Mitsotakis – who will be replaced by caretaker Prime Minister Ioannis Sarmas, a senior judge, ahead of elections on June 25 – strongly denied that Greece has an official policy of returning newly arrived migrants to Turkiye. Such illegal deportations are known as pushbacks.
In an interview with CNN late on Tuesday, Mitsotakis said that he takes the alleged incident reported by the New York Times “very seriously”.
“It is already being investigated (by) my government,” he said. “I have made numerous times the distinction between (the reported pushback), which is a completely unacceptable practice, and between our obligation, which is … intercepting (migrants) on our sea border with Turkiye and then asking for the Turkish coast guard to come and pick these people up.”
Greece is a major entry point for migrants seeking a better life in the European Union (EU) – most entering illegally from Turkiye in unseaworthy boats provided by smuggling gangs.
Mitsotakis’ government has tightened patrols, significantly reducing arrivals, but has been repeatedly accused by human rights groups – and Turkish officials – of pushbacks. Athens steadily denies these claims.
Mitsotakis on Tuesday accused the Turkish coast guard of “push-forwards”, claiming that they “aggressively push desperate people on inflatable boats … to sea and (push) them into out territorial waters”.
The New York Times report was based on a video provided by an activist and made public two days before Greece’s parliamentary election on Sunday – which Mitsotakis’ centre-right party won with a huge margin. But he will have to seek a new election in just over a month, because the electoral law didn’t give him a governing majority.
The report alleged that in early April migrants were brought by van to a Lesbos beach and taken by speedboat to a coast guard vessel. The coast guard allegedly left the migrants on a raft at sea from which they were picked up by the Turkish coast guard and taken back to Turkiye.
The EU Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson on Tuesday said the EU has formally asked Athens to be “fully and independently” investigate the incident.