Greece accuses Turkey of escorting migrant smuggling boats

In this photo provided by the Hellenic Coast Guard and taken from a vessel shows a dinghy with migrants, left, with Turkish ships in the background, in the narrow stretch of water between the eastern Greek island of Lesbos and the Turkish coast on Friday, April 2, 2021. Greece is reporting a series of incidents with the Turkish coast guard in the narrow stretch of water between the eastern Greek island of Lesbos and the Turkish coast, at a time of generally testy relations between the two neighbors and NATO allies. The Greek coast guard said three incidents occurred Friday morning northeast of Lesbos, an island on the main migrant smuggling route from Turkey to Greece. It said two involved Turkish coast guard vessels escorting or pushing dinghies carrying migrants toward Greek territorial waters. There was no immediate reaction from Turkish authorities. Turkey and Greece have long traded accusations over the migration issue. (Hellenic Coast Guard via AP)

ATHENS – Greece is reporting a series of brushes with Turkey's coast guard in the narrow stretch of water between the eastern Greek island of Lesbos and the Turkish coast, at a time of generally testy relations between the two neighbors and NATO allies.

The Greek coast guard said that in six incidents between Thursday night and Friday morning, Turkish patrol vessels escorted dinghies filled with migrants attempting to enter Greek territorial waters. It said that in another incident, a Turkish coast guard vessel harassed a Greek coast guard vessel.

All occurred northeast of Lesbos, an island on the main migrant smuggling route from Turkey to Greece.

None of the migrant dinghies, which had been carrying around 300 people in total, managed to enter Greek territorial waters, and all the passengers were eventually picked up by the Turkish coast guard, the Greek coast guard said.

“This morning, the Hellenic Coast Guard reported multiple incidents of the Turkish Coast Guard and Navy accompanying flimsy migrant boats to the border of Europe in an effort to provoke an escalation with Greece,” Migration Minister Notis Mitarachi said in a statement. “It is beyond doubt that these migrants departed Turkish shores and given the fact they were supported by Turkey, were not at risk.”

Mitarachi called on Turkey to “stand down and stop this unwarranted provocation.”

There was no immediate reaction from Turkish authorities.

Turkey and Greece have long traded accusations over unauthorized migration. The Turkish coast guard, as well as numerous refugee rights organizations and aid groups, have accused the Greek coast guard of conducting pushbacks — illegal summary deportation — by pushing migrants back to Turkey without allowing them to apply for asylum in Greece.