The Greek government yesterday accused Turkey of encouraging Somali migration through promotion campaigns and visa offers, and then allowing the migrants to continue to Greece.
Athens has long accused Ankara of weaponising migration to pile pressure on the European Union.
Turkey counters that the EU is providing insufficient support to enable it to accommodate around four million migrants, many of whom want to travel to Europe.
In February and March, there were days of skirmishes between migrants and police at the Greek-Turkish border after a surge the Greek government says was orchestrated by Turkey.
“In Somalia, we understand that the Turkish authorities, the ministry of education and other ministries, are promoting immigration to Turkey,” Migration Minister Notis Mitarachi told a news conference.
Citing alleged testimony from Somali migrants, Mitarachi said applicants were being “facilitated” by a Turkish liaison office in Mogadishu to obtain visas based on certificates and documents provided by Turkish-funded institutions in Somalia.
These include a hospital and a university in Mogadishu, the minister said.
“We understand that as many as 300 people have flown to Turkey in this way,” Mitarachi said.
“These people are essentially arriving legally in Turkey, for the express purpose of illegal trafficking into Europe.When Somalis arrive in Istanbul, they are transferred in cars, to specific areas of the city where they stay until their relocation to the western side of Turkey.”
“It is evident that these people are not at risk in Turkey and therefore should be given asylum there, if appropriate. It is worrying that Turkey appears to be facilitating the arrival of these migrants by willingly providing visas for travel,” Mitarachi added.
He added that Somali asylum seekers were also allegedly using “subsidised tickets and visas paid for by NGOs.”
There was no immediate comment from Ankara to the allegations.
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 last week.
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”.