Turkish patrol boat caused migrant dinghy to sink

Turkish Coast Guard FRONTEX boat

Migration and Asylum Minister Notis Mitarachi sent a letter to European Commission Vice President Margaritis Schinas and to European Commissioners Ylva Johannson and Oliver Varhelyi, as well as Frontex Executive Director Fabrice Leggeri, about the sinking of a dinghy carrying migrants by a Turkish patrol boat off the coast of Lesvos on July 30, the migration ministry announced on Tuesday.

Mitarachi informed the European officials that the dinghy, which was carrying 13 non-EU nationals, overturned within Turkish waters between Lesvos and the Turkish coast during the early morning hours of July 30.

Based on the accounts of witnesses to the Greek police and coast guard, the inflatable dinghy "Altinova" had set off from the Turkish coast at 3:50 on July 30, while a Turkish patrol boat had not only failed to intercept the boat or make it change course but had allowed its approach to illegally enter European Union waters.

The minister additionally reported that the water had been calm when the Turkish patrol boat approached the dinghy but then it carried out manoeuvres that created waves, which caused the dinghy to overturn.

Turkish authorities then failed to launch a search and rescue operation to save the people that were in danger but had instead departed from the area.

According to the minister, the Greek coast guard officers, in the face of the inaction of their Turkish counterparts, had then entered about half a mile into Turkish territorial waters to carry out a search and rescue operation, saving a total of 10 people, nine of them within Turkish waters and one, who had swum some distance from where the boat overturned, within Greek waters.

Three people were missing, Mitarachi said.

In his letter, the minister said that the constant sea and land crossings from Turkey to Greece proved Turkey's failure to restrict the operation of people trafficking networks within its territory.

He noted that Turkish authorities seemed to spend excessive time recording people traffickers and "left minimal room for the prosecution and breaking-up of these criminal rings that expose vulnerable people to danger."

"In this case, it appears that the Turkish authorities are themselves involved in exposing people in the sea to danger," the minister added.

Mitarachi repeated that Greece is committed to a tough but fair migration policy and the protection of the common European external borders "in line with out international obligations".

These efforts were even more crucial at a time when third countries were choosing to "instrumentalise" migration for political purposes, he added.

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