Greece says over 500 migrants prevented from entering sea by Turkey

Greece’s coast guard on Monday prevented some 590 migrants from illegally entering the country’s waters in the Aegean Sea from neighbouring Turkey, Greek newspaper Kathimerini reported.

The migrants were believed to have been aboard sailing yachts and inflatable dinghies, it said, when they were spotted by Greek officials and turned back before reaching the country’s waters.

Alleged pushbacks of migrants by Greece across the Aegean Sea and over the land border with Turkey are among the issues contributing to ongoing tensions in Turkish-Greek relations.

Turkey frequently accuses Greece of committing crimes against humanity via the so-called pushbacks, which have been confirmed by several human rights groups. Athens, in turn, accuses Ankara of using asylum seekers as a political tool and of failing to stop them covertly entering Greece.

Turkish authorities were notified to pick up the passengers on the vessels, Kathimerini said, noting that three of the five yachts returned to the Turkish coast of their own volition, and all the other migrants were eventually taken back by Turkish patrol vessels.

The larger vessels are believed to have been planning to sail past Greece to fellow European Union member Italy, according to Kathimerini.

Turkey rescued 15,174 irregular migrants pushed back by Greece into the sea last year, state-run Anadolu news agency reported in January.

Since 2016, Turkey and the EU have maintained a deal that would see Turkish authorities curtail the flow of migrants into the bloc in exchange for financial support. However, EU officials have accused Ankara of attempting to “blackmail” it with repeated threats that it would abrogate the deal over unrelated disputes with Brussels. 

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