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‘They simply left us’: Greece is accused of setting migrants adrift at sea

Moist and shaken, ladies and youngsters have been pulled aboard the Turkish patrol boat first, then the lads and extra youngsters.

A 7-year-old woman in striped leggings, Heliah Nazari, shivered uncontrollably as she was set down on the deck. An older girl retched right into a plastic bag.

They have been two of 20 asylum-seekers from Afghanistan who had been drifting at midnight, deserted in rudderless rafts for 4 hours earlier than the Turkish coast guard reached them.

Simply hours earlier that they had been resting in a forest on the Greek island of Lesbos after they have been caught by Greek law enforcement officials who confiscated their paperwork, cash and cellphones and ferried them out to sea.

“They kicked us all, with their toes, even the kids, ladies, males and everybody,” mentioned Ashraf Salih, 21, recounting their story. “They didn’t say something, they simply left us. They weren’t humane in any respect.”

Turkish coast guard officers described it as a transparent case — not often witnessed by journalists — of the unlawful pushbacks which have now develop into an everyday characteristic of the damaging sport of cat and mouse between the 2 international locations over hundreds of migrants who proceed to aim the ocean crossing from Turkey to the Greek islands as a method into Europe.

Since a mutual settlement broke down final yr, Turkey and Greece have been at loggerheads over find out how to take care of the persevering with movement of migrants alongside some of the frequented routes used because the mass motion boomed in 2015.

Then, a million migrants, largely Syrians fleeing the struggle of their nation, led the surge into Europe. The movement is way lowered — 40,000 have arrived by sea into Europe to date this yr — however it’s now dominated by Afghans, elevating fears that the escalating battle there and the US withdrawal of troops might convey bigger numbers.

Unlawful pushback of migrants has develop into an everyday characteristic for Greece, say the Turkish Coast Guard. (The New York Instances)

For greater than a yr, Turkey has turned a blind eye to the migrants, permitting them to strive the ocean crossing to Greece. That nation has resorted to expelling migrants forcibly, disabling their boats and pushing them again to Turkey when they’re caught at sea.

More and more, Greece is even eradicating asylum-seekers who’ve reached its islands, forcing them into life rafts and towing them into Turkish waters, because the compassion many Greeks had proven throughout earlier waves of migration has given solution to anger and exhaustion.

The tactic of so-called pushbacks has been roundly denounced by refugee organizations and European officers as a violation of worldwide legislation and of elementary European values. The Greek authorities denies that it has pushed again any migrants whereas insisting on its proper to guard its borders.

“Quite a few circumstances have been investigated, together with by the European Union,” Notis Mitarachi, minister for migration and asylum in Greece, mentioned final week, “and studies have discovered no proof of any breach of EU elementary rights.”

Philippe Leclerc, head of the United Nations refugee company in Turkey, mentioned his workplace had offered proof, together with “accounts of violence and household separations” to the Greek ombudsman, requesting the circumstances be investigated, with out outcome.

The 2 international locations are at an deadlock, with Turkey demanding that Greece finish the pushbacks first, and Greece demanding that Turkey first take again 1,400 migrants whose asylum requests have been rejected, Leclerc mentioned.

President of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been extensively accused of precipitating the disaster, when in February final yr he introduced he was opening his nation’s borders for migrants to journey to Europe.

Turkish officers, who spoke on situation of anonymity as a result of they weren’t permitted to talk to the information media, mentioned the step was taken to attract world consideration to Turkey’s personal burden in internet hosting some 4 million asylum-seekers from different nations’ wars — greater than 3.6 million Syrians, together with 400,000 different individuals from Afghanistan, Asia and the Center East. It’s the single largest refugee neighborhood on the earth and has taken over the entire suburbs of Istanbul and the capital, Ankara.

However the motion was interpreted in Greece as a sort of blackmail to extort cash and different concessions from the European Union on a variety of points.

It led to clashes between migrants and Greek border guards on the Turkish-Greek border and brought on the conservative Greek authorities to undertake aggressive new measures towards migrants, together with the pushbacks.

Greece has struggled to deal with the inflow of greater than 100,000 asylum circumstances and overcrowded refugee camps on its islands whereas different European international locations have executed little to share the burden.

However Turkish officers stress that the numbers Greece is dealing with are nothing in contrast with the size of the pressure on Turkey. Resentment towards the migrants in Turkey has grown as financial situations have worsened, threatening Erdogan’s political standing. He, in flip, has railed towards wealthier states shirking their obligations towards the world’s refugees and never doing sufficient to finish the conflicts that trigger them to flee.

Annoyed after greater than a yr of selecting up hundreds of migrants left by their Greek counterparts, the Turkish coast guard invited journalists not too long ago on a patrol boat to witness what they mentioned have been the Greek violations.

“It’s apparent they have been pushed again,” Senior Lt. Cmdr. Sadun Ozdemir, the Northern Aegean group commander of the Turkish coast guard, mentioned after his crew had rescued the 20 Afghans. “They didn’t come from the sky.”

He mentioned the Greek vessel had in all probability towed the rafts deep into Turkish territorial waters earlier than slicing them adrift, which he mentioned was an extra violation.

One raft was overloaded and the skinny backside leaking, he mentioned. “That boat might have sunk in a single or two minutes, and presumably they have no idea find out how to swim they usually might have drowned.”

As usually occurs, the Turkish crew obtained an e mail from their Greek counterparts that migrants have been drifting within the space — a seeming effort by the Greeks to mitigate the lack of life however one thing the Turks say is an implicit signal of Greek culpability.

The pushbacks additionally injury relations between the Greek and Turkish coast guards and intrude with work towards drug and folks trafficking, Ozdemir mentioned.

Business ships in addition to navy and coast guard vessels move by way of the northern Aegean and will simply hit the small rafts and boats, which don’t have any lights or technique of navigation, he added.

“This factor we name ‘pushback’ in English is a really harmless expression,” he mentioned. However the motion was something however, he mentioned, hoping to convey “how determined the state of affairs is.”

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