Twelve migrants froze to death after being stripped of their clothes and pushed back by Greek border guards, Agence France-Presse reported on Wednesday, citing Turkey’s interior minister.
“12 of the 22 migrants pushed back by Greek Border Units, stripped [of] their clothes and shoes have frozen to death,” Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu tweeted in English, adding that the EU was “remediless, weak and void of humane feelings” in face of the tragedy.
The minister also tweeted blurred images showing bodies lying by the side of the road, saying they were taken near Turkey’s western border town of İpsala.
The statement by Soylu threatens to escalate tensions between the rival members of the NATO defense alliance.
It also highlights Ankara’s concern that the European Union is not doing enough to support Turkey — which hosts an estimated 5 million migrants and refugees — in the face of a potential new flow of people from Afghanistan, AFP said.
The Edirne Governor’s Office on Wednesday said in a statement that 11 of the migrants were discovered frozen to death, while another one rushed to a hospital with severe frostbite “could not be saved and died.”
“An investigation has been launched,” the office also said.
Greece has been in the throes of Europe’s biggest migration crisis since 2015, when more than a million asylum seekers, mainly Syrians, streamed into neighboring Turkey, making the crossing into Greece and on to other parts of Europe.
In early 2020 Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan lifted all border controls, giving a green light to millions of refugees trapped in Turkey to flee to Europe through Greece. The government in Athens responded by invoking special powers, allowing it to block what it called an enemy invasion.
According to data collected by The Guardian based on reports from United Nations agencies as well as the databases of civil society organizations, European countries pushed back 40,000 migrants, forcibly in most cases, between January 2020 and May 2021, and more than 2,000 migrants died during these pushbacks.
The pushback policy was supported by the European Border and Coast Guard Agency (Frontex) and has become systematic as the migrants, including children, who escaped wars were sent back, the daily reported.
A total of 6,230 pushbacks by Greece took place between January 2020 and May 2021, according to a report by the Border Violence Monitoring Network (BVMN).
A report by Amnesty International published in early June detailed the practices of Greek border forces of violently and illegally detaining groups of refugees and migrants before summarily returning them to Turkey, in a breach of the country’s human rights obligations under EU and international law.
The Justice and Development Party (AKP) government and its leader and President Erdoğan are also at the center of criticism for using refugees as bargaining chips in Turkey’s relations with Europe.