World News

Greece accuses Turkey of trying to provoke it with migrant boats

ATHENS (Reuters) - Greece accused Turkey on Friday of trying to provoke it by attempting to push boats carrying migrants into Greek waters, a claim Ankara strongly rejected.

FILE PHOTO: A crowd of migrants, mostly from Syria, wait at the main bus station under aTurkish flag stretched above them in Istanbul, Turkey, September 17, 2015. REUTERS/Yagiz Karahan

Greece and Turkey disagree on a range of issues, including energy resources in the Mediterranean, and tensions between the NATO allies rose last year when thousands of asylum-seekers in Turkey tried to storm the Greek land border.

Migration Minister Notis Mitarachi said the Greek coastguard had reported multiple incidents on Friday of the Turkish coastguard and navy accompanying migrant boats “to the border of Europe, in an effort to provoke an escalation” with Greece.

“It is beyond doubt that these migrants departed Turkish shores, and given the fact they were supported by Turkey, were not at risk,” Mitarachi said in a recorded statement.

“We call on Turkey to stand down and stop this unwarranted provocation.”

Turkish Deputy Interior Minister Ismail Catakli responded to Mitarachi on Twitter, saying that he was distorting the events and telling lies.

Catakli accused Greece of pushing back 231 migrants in seven incidents that took place on Friday, adding that Turkey rescued them.

“That’s a crime against humanity to slander the Turkish Coast Guard saving people you left to death. That’s typical of you!,” Catakli wrote.

The Greek coastguard said that in one incident a boat carrying migrants tried to enter Greek territorial waters on Friday accompanied by a Turkish coastguard vessel. In another, two Turkish vessels tried to push a dingy with migrants into Greek waters.

In a third incident off the island of Lesbos, a Turkish coastguard vessel entered Greek territorial waters and harassed a Greek patrol boat, it said.

Nearly a million asylum-seekers, mostly Syrians, Iraqis and Afghans, crossed to Greece from Turkey on boats in 2015 at the start of Europe’s migration crisis. A year later, the EU struck a deal with Ankara to stem the flow and numbers fell dramatically.

Mitarachi called on Turkey to “live up to” its commitments under the deal.

Reporting by Karolina Tagaris in Athens and Tuvan Gumrukcu in Ankara; Editing by Kirsten Donovan and Chris Reese