Migration Minister calls for investigation into alleged refugee pushbacks in Greek waters


Greek Minister of Migration & Asylum Notis Mitarakis has called on the country's National Transparency Authority to investigate reported allegations of refugees pushbacks carried out at Greek waters, he announced on Wednesday.

Mitarakis was speaking at a press conference about the fatal sinking of a vessel off the island of Chios on Tuesday, which cost the lives of 4 refugees (aged 4, 11, 25 and 28), while up to another 4 people are still missing.

"Greece has independent authorities to investigate [such] allegations," stressed the minister, including internal ministerial procedures, the National Transparency Authority and the country's courts. He made the statement in response to a media question on whether the Greek government will set up a new independent investigating authority, as requested by the European Commission.

On the fatal incident near Chios island, Mitarakis noted that "it highlights the cruel reality of migrants' exploitation by criminal gangs in the Aegean Sea." He added that "unscrupulous smugglers endanger lives on heavily laden, non-navigable boats. Boats without hulls, people - even small children - without life jackets. This is the reality we face every day in the Aegean Sea."

The minister noted that 22 refugees were rescued by the Hellenic Coast Guard, of whom 3 are hospitalized. Of the 22 people, 15 came from Somalia, 3 from Sudan and 4 from Eritrea. The victims of the sinking came from Somalia too, he added, "therefore, obviously not fleeing prosecution in Turkey," he added. The survivors were not facing any risk in Turkey either, he added.

The Greek police and Coast Guard often operate under harsh conditions and in a difficult environment for the sake of the EU as a whole, the minister noted. "Turkish authorities can and must do more to prevent exploitation by criminal gangs at source," he pointed out, and the European Union must provide tangible support towards this.

Greece promotes channels of legal and well-organized migration, Mitarakis said. To that end it has already welcomed the relocation in the country of some 700 people from Afghanistan, said the minister, "which highlights our country's intent to help people in need, not human traffickers."