ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkey and Greece on Monday exchanged more mutual recrimination over 92 migrants who were found stripped naked by Greek authorities at the two countries’ joint border, a day after the United Nations called for an investigation into the incident.
Greek migration minister Notis Mitarachi on Saturday tweeted a photo of the naked migrants, some with bodily harm, accusing Turkey of pushing them into Greece and stripping them naked before doing so. The claim prompted Fahrettin Altun, the communications director of Turkey’s president, to accuse Greece of engaging in “ fake news.”
On Monday, Turkey’s foreign minister again rejected the allegation and accused Athens of “shameless and reckless” behavior. He also took aim at European Union nations, accusing them of encouraging EU-member Greece to “slander” Turkey.
The Greek government’s spokesman, Giannis Oikonomou, meanwhile, charged that Turkey was “continuing to openly instrumentalize migrants and even with unprecedented and unthinkable practices of barbarism.”
The exchange of accusations comes at a time when tensions between the two neighbors is running high, with the two engaging in mutual accusations of airspace violations and Turkey accusing Greece of militarizing islands in the Aegean Sea in violation of international treaties and threatening possible military action.
“To be able to appear right even when you are in the wrong like Greece – you need to be shameless and reckless. It’s only Greece that can achieve this,” Cavusoglu said at a news conference at the end of meeting in Istanbul of the foreign ministers of Turkic states.
“It is natural that Greece … attempts to slander Turkey as its crimes increases,” Cavusoglu said. “Unfortunately, there are European Union member countries who want to believe this, who want to accept everything that Greece says as true … This is what encourages Greece.”
Greek police said Saturday that police officers found the migrants stark naked on Friday, “some with bodily injuries.” They had entered the country using plastic boats to cross the Evros River — known as Meric in Turkey — which forms a border between the two countries.
“This inhuman behavior is a disgrace to civilization, and the Turkish leadership, instead of blaming others for what is happening on its territory, should investigate the incident, punish those directly involved and honor its obligations under its Joint Declaration with the EU,” the Greek government spokesman said in reference to a 2016 deal to stem the arrival of refugees.
Turkey regularly accuses Greece of violently pushing back migrants entering the country by land and sea. Turkey’s coast guard frequently shares videos of such pushbacks.
Greece accuses Turkey, which hosts the largest number of refugees in the world, of “pushing forward” migrants to put pressure on the EU.
The U.N. refugee agency said it was “deeply distressed by the shocking reports,” condemning the “degrading treatment” and calling for an investigation.
On Monday, Turkey’s Interior Ministry said in a statement that a total of 61,737 migrants had been illegally pushed back from Greece since 2020, and that 152 migrants died as a result of the pushbacks. So far this year, 26,363 migrants were illegally forced back and 59 of them died, the ministry said.
“We strongly reject that the name of our country, which has been pursuing humanitarian policies for irregular migrants … be mentioned side by side with Greece, which is well known for the inhumane treatment it has inflicted on immigrants for years,” read the ministry’s statement.
Derek Gatopoulos contributed to this report from Athens, Greece.
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