The European Union's border and coast guard agency Frontex is not an organization with a clean record, Turkey's Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu said Wednesday, adding that Europe will be held accountable for the disgraceful actions of the agency.
Speaking at the year-end evaluation meeting of the Turkish Coast Guard Command, Soylu said that irregular migration is the most important issue for the unit.
"Pushbacks, especially by Greece, are both a serious problem and a crime against humanity, staring the whole world in the eye. Greek elements push back 83% of irregular migrants who reach their borders," he said.
Soylu noted that there were two losses of life and three cases of disappearances in 2020 due to pushbacks, and explained that eight deaths occured in 2021 for this reason. Saying that Frontex was an accessory in this crime by ignoring international law, he added: "Frontex is the disgrace of our century and one that has to wear black bands on their sleeves. They will feel responsible for this for the rest of their lives. It is not a clean institution. European civilization and Europe will be called to account for this institution. The world's dirtiest institution is Frontex."
Calling on Europe to dissolve the agency, Soylu said: "Europe should abandon this institution. They are making their judgments, at the end of the investigation, the Frontex institution should be convicted and should be wiped from the world. The most important representative of the truly dark mentality of Europe in the 21st century is Frontex."
Soylu stated that between Feb. 28, 2020, and Dec. 21, 2021, a total of 1,430 immigrant incidents were recorded due to pushbacks, and 42,879 immigrants were saved from death in these incidents. Stating that the pushback events should be monitored closely, Soylu said that Frontex, Greece and Europe should be taught a lesson.
The Turkish coast guard has rescued 526 irregular migrants since Dec. 13 that were pushed back by Greece, the command also said Tuesday.
From Dec. 13-25, "in a total of 52 incidents, 991 irregular migrants and 10 migrant smugglers were apprehended, and 526 irregular migrants pushed back into our territorial waters by Greek assets were rescued," it said in a statement.
The statement also highlighted Turkey's efforts to prevent irregular migration and illegal activities on a 24/7 basis and to assist anyone in need of help at sea while respecting human rights and both domestic and international law.
The command also expressed Turkey's concern over rising casualties along migration routes due to Greek security forces' pushback tactics and policy of intimidation, forcing irregular migrants to change course directly to Italy.
Greek officials' unfortunate statements blaming Turkey show the extent of the lack of seriousness in addressing the situation, it added.
The journey of hope of irregular migrants, who set out to start a new life, either ends in the blue waters of the Aegean or turns into a nightmare due to the inhumane practices of Greek coast guard units. Turkey and Greece have been key transit points for migrants aiming to cross into Europe, fleeing war and persecution to start new lives. Turkey has accused Greece of large-scale pushbacks and summary deportations without migrants being given access to asylum procedures, which is a violation of international law. It also accuses the European Union of turning a blind eye to this blatant abuse of human rights.
International organizations and Turkey have repeatedly condemned Greece's illegal practice of pushing back asylum-seekers, saying it violates humanitarian values and international law by endangering the lives of vulnerable migrants, including women and children. Turkey's five Aegean provinces – Çanakkale, Balıkesir, Izmir, Muğla and Aydın – are prime spots for refugees leaving Turkey for the EU, with Greek islands lying within sight of the Turkish coast.
In recent years, hundreds of thousands have made short but perilous journeys across the Aegean in a bid to reach northern and western Europe in search of a better life. Hundreds of people have died at sea as a number of boats carrying refugees sank or capsized. The Turkish Coast Guard Command has rescued thousands of others.
Pushbacks are considered contrary to international refugee protection agreements, which dictate that people should not be expelled or returned to a country where their life and safety might be in danger due to their race, religion, nationality or membership in a social or political group.
Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, whose center-right New Democracy party came to power in 2019, continued to defend his government's controversial migration policy, alleging that it was "tough but fair," and claimed Greece has been rescuing hundreds of people at sea since 2015 when it was on the front line of Europe's migration crisis.
In a recent report, the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) revealed that migrants at EU borders still face difficult conditions and violations of rights in detention and reception centers. The report also noted that pushing migrants back to Turkey has become the de facto border policy of Greece and that torture, ill-treatment and pushbacks continue.
It is also known that Frontex has been involved in Greek pushbacks of migrants. A joint investigation by several international news outlets reported in October 2020 that Frontex had been complicit in maritime pushback operations to drive away migrants attempting to enter the EU via Greek waters. A month later, Brussels-based news outlet EUobserver revealed that Frontex exchanged letters with Greek authorities about Athens' orders to push migrants back to Turkish waters.