PIRAEUS, Greece—Greek authorities have prevented thousands of migrants from entering Greece clandestinely by sea this year despite a recent lack of cooperation from the Turkish coast guard, the country’s shipping minister said Wednesday.
Giannis Plakiotakis, whose ministry is also in charge of the coast guard, said arrivals were down 84 percent since March 1, compared to the same period last year, while the reduction in the month of August stood at nearly 95 percent compared to August 2019.
“Since the start of the year, the entry of more than 10,000 people has been prevented,” Plakiotakis said during a news conference. In August alone, he said, “we had 68 cases of prevention and we succeeded in 3,000 people not entering our country.”
This, he said, was achieved despite the Turkish coast guard ignoring appeals by the Greek coast guard to stop migrant boats leaving Turkish waters. He also accused Turkey’s coast guard of actively escorting the boats to the edge of Greek territorial waters.
“There are cases where (the Turkish coast guard) is accompanying boats with refugees and migrants to our borders and … trying to create problems,” he said.
Plakiotakis would not elaborate on how the boats were prevented from entering Greek waters, which also mark the southeastern border of the European Union. But he stressed the coast guard “operates based on international law and international legality, based on the rules of engagement at sea, and … with complete respect for human dignity and of course for human life.”
Plakiotakis said just 316 people entered by sea this July, compared to 5,551 last July, while August saw 455 arrivals, compared to 8,288 in August 2019.
Greece has beefed up patrols along the land and sea border with Turkey, particularly after Ankara sent thousands of migrants to the land border in March, saying its own frontier to the European Union was open for anyone wanting to head into the EU.
Athens has insisted it has the right to protect its borders from people attempting to enter clandestinely. The European border patrol agency Frontex is also assisting in patrolling Greece’s eastern border, with 13 boats, four planes and one helicopter, as well as 650 officers and 72 patrol cars.
Previous years saw a modicum of cooperation between the Greek and Turkish coast guards. Under a 2016 EU-Turkey deal, Turkish authorities agreed to crack down on migration flows toward Greece, including by stopping boats heading to the Greek islands.
But Greek authorities say the Turkish coast guard no longer responds to their calls when migrant boats are sighted.
Greek-Turkish relations have deteriorated dramatically in the past few months, with the two neighbors sending warships to the eastern Mediterranean in an dispute over rights to potential offshore energy resources.
By Elena Becatoros