Greece pushes back 47 migrants into Turkish waters

Athens: Türkiye came to the rescue of 47 irregular migrants pushed back into its territorial waters by the Greek coast guard, authorities said Wednesday.

The migrants, among them were eight children, were left to die floating in a rubber boat off the coast of western Mugla province, the Turkish Coast Guard Command said, where just a day before the authorities rescued 33 other asylum-seekers pushed back in the same way.

A Turkish citizen trying to flee the country with the migrants was also detained.

The migrants were transported to the provincial migration department.

Many boatloads of migrants attempt to make the dangerous sea crossing to reach the Greek islands from the Turkish coast, hoping to eventually reach prosperous European Union countries.

Others attempt to enter Greece by crossing a river that runs along the land border between the two countries.

While many make it to the EU, many others perish at sea or are pushed back by Greece into Turkish waters in violation of international law.

Athens’ illegal practice has been documented by Türkiye, international human rights groups and charities on many occasions, as well as in accounts of migrants intercepted in the Aegean or land borders.

Greece has made a “recurring practice” of alleged secret, illegal and often brutal deportations back to Türkiye, Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said in a report released on Oct. 31, citing 50 testimonies over the past two years from migrants.

Athens has strongly denied such so-called pushbacks, arguing that its coast guard has saved hundreds of thousands of migrants from the Middle East and Africa crossing in small boats from Türkiye.

Greece says it needs to protect its borders, which are also those of the EU, from mass illegal immigration. It has stepped up patrols in the Aegean Sea with the help of the European Border Surveillance Agency, Frontex.

The Turkish Coast Guard command rescued 25,889 irregular migrants pushed back Greece in the Aegean Sea in 2023 alone, according to data from the agency.

It said the highest number of pushbacks – some 11,715 migrants – occurred off the coast of western Izmir province, which has a meandering coast stretching over 460 kilometers (286 miles) and close to the Greek islands. Izmir was followed by other western provinces, Mugla, Çanakkale, Aydin and Balikesir.

The MSF said the current situation at Europe’s borders “is the result of EU policies that condone and enable continued violence against individuals in need.”
In the first nine months of the year, migrant arrivals in Greece spiked to over 29,700 people, compared to 11,000 in the same period in 2022, according to figures from the Greek government.

Latest figures from the International Organization for Migration (IOM) too revealed more than 2,750 people went missing and are presumed dead in the central Mediterranean this year, higher than in any of the last five years.

As part of recently revived talks to mend long-tense bilateral ties, Greece and Türkiye are also considering renewing a 2016 EU deal restricting migration.

Türkiye itself copes with the irregular migration phenomenon as crises across the world once again put it at the forefront of migrant influx as a gateway to Europe.

The country, which already hosts 4 million refugees, more than any other country in the world, is taking new measures at its borders to prevent a fresh influx of migrants, balancing a humanitarian policy and the need to stop thousands from risking their lives.