A group of 17 asylum seekers who fled Turkey due to a post-coup purge were pushed back to Turkish waters on Monday by the Greek coast guard and detained by local police, Euronews reported.
Leaving the Turkish Aegean coastal town of Ayvacık early in the morning, a boat carrying 17 asylum seekers including four children was stopped by the Greek coast guard three kilometers off the Greek island of Lesbos. The distress of the asylum seekers was captured on camera and has attracted heavy criticism on social media.
Although the group made clear they were seeking asylum, the Greek coast guard sent them back to Turkish territorial waters, where they were picked up by the police and detained.
Since a coup attempt in 2016, the Turkish government has been clamping down on dissident voices and opposition media outlets, imprisoning thousands of people. As a result many Turkish citizens are seeking safety overseas. The group that was pushed back by Greek sailors on Monday morning was likewise trying to leave Turkey to avoid prosecution.
Local sources who requested anonymity claimed that in the last two days three boats carrying Turkish political refugees were pushed back to Turkey off the Greek islands of Lesbos and Chios.
According to The New York Times, the Greek government has expelled more than 1,000 refugees from the country, taking them to the edge of Greek territorial waters and abandoning them in overcrowded inflatable rafts.
“Since March, at least 1,072 asylum seekers have been dropped at sea by Greek officials in at least 31 separate expulsions,” The New York Times said, citing an analysis of evidence from three independent watchdogs, two academic researchers and the Turkish Coast Guard.
Expulsion is illegal under international law, and this manner of attempting to block migrants from entering Europe is one of the most direct measures that have been taken so far, according to the Times. The Greek government, however, does not accept that there is any wrongdoing on their part.
Government spokesperson Stelios Petsas said: “Greek authorities do not engage in clandestine activities. Greece has a proven track record when it comes to observing international law, conventions, and protocols. This includes the treatment of refugees and migrants.”
Watchdogs such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and Pro-Asyl have published reports that document several pushback cases. They add that these pushbacks have increased exponentially since April 2020.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in February threatened Europe with sending refugees living in Turkey to Europe, declaring shortly afterwards that the borders were now open. This was perceived as an “invasion” by Greece, which declared that it would not allow for such an influx of migrants. Greece and other European countries believe Turkey is trying to weaponize migrants to step up pressure on Europe to secure more money for its Syrian refugees and more cooperation in the Syrian war.