Greek Minister of Migration and Asylum Notis Mitarachi accused the Turkish Coast Guard of ignoring a distress signal sent out by a dinghy carrying 34 illegal migrants in the Aegean Sea on Wednesday.
The Hellenic Coast Guard launched a search and rescue operation after the vessel sank off the island of Lesvos. Authorities said 32 people (15 men, 14 women and 3 children) were rescued, while two women remain missing.
Two Greek patrol boats, one vessel from the European border agency Frontex and two helicopters participated in the search and rescue operation.
"I express my sorrow for the accident today in Lesvos and the loss of human lives, despite the immediate operation of the Coast Guard, which rescued 32 passengers, in the fatal boat," Mitarakis said.
He also berated those who turn a blind eye and allow inflatable boats “that do not meet any safety requirements and are driven by people without permission and knowledge of the rules of the sea to try to cross the Aegean”.
Εκφράζω την λύπη μου για το ναυάγιο σήμερα στην Λέσβο και την απώλεια ανθρώπινων ζωών, παρά την άμεση επιχείρηση του @HCoastGuard, που διέσωσε 32 επιβαίνοντες, στη μοιραία βάρκα. #ΥΜΑ #μεταναστευτικό pic.twitter.com/XQ0mtoAHt9
— Νότης Μηταράκης - Notis Mitarachi (@nmitarakis) December 2, 2020
"Based on the testimonies of the rescued migrants, the Turkish coast guard vessel that located them initially (the migrants called an emergency number) did not help, or rescue them but allowed them instead to illegally cross the maritime borders of the European Union,” he added.
Mitarakis continued by pointing out that NGOs must immediately stop contributing, perhaps unintentionally, to the loss of human lives.
“The international community must, with crucial and strict interventions, protect human lives, contributing substantially to the complete end of the illegal routes of traffickers.”
Meanwhile, a special European Union committee will investigate claims that the Hellenic Coast Guard and the European Union border protection agency FRONTEX carried out pushbacks of illegal immigrants.
The investigation was requested by the representatives of EU member-states and the European Commission at a meeting overseen by Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson.
The findings will be presented at the next regular meeting scheduled to take place on January 20-21.
In the first ten months of 2020, migration flows to Greece dropped 74% compared to flows registered in the same period in 2019.
Specifically, according to the data, some 17,000 crossings into Greece were recorded between January and October 2020.
Most of the 1,050 crossings recorded in October 2020 occurred over land, as opposed to sea crossings.