Four migrants who were lucky enough to survive the bitter cold, unlike 19 others, after being pushed back by Greece toward the Turkish border recounted their plight as they called for migrants to be treated humanely.
Riyaz A., a Bangladeshi national who is one of the survivors, told reporters that he is devastated by the loss of his friends as he outlined the mistreatment by Greek authorities.
"They didn't give us food or water for three days. We were not properly dressed for the weather, it was raining a lot. They pushed us back to Turkey. Some of us moved fast while others took a rest. We did not rest, continued and found a vehicle. Then a Turkish soldier gave us shoes, coats, food. Because of this treatment we received, we survived," he said.
The survivor said they want their voices to be heard and irregular migrants to be treated humanely.
"We are human ... the European Union sees and hears this. My friends died because they (Greece) pushed them back while they were wearing thin clothes. No country in the world treats migrants like this. We come from a poor place. We are not here to steal, we are here to work," he said.
Muhammed T., another Bangladeshi national, also said that they were subjected to mistreatment in Greece.
Speaking to reporters, Syrian national Ahmed Mustafa said he started his journey to Europe but was caught in Greece and imprisoned for four days.
"They beat us, tortured us. They treated us very badly. They have no mercy, they treat everyone badly. They sent us across the border to Turkey and chased us with sticks. Some of us were sent back naked. They also took our phones. May Allah be pleased with the Turkish soldiers, they gave us food and clothes," he said.
In tears, another Syrian national, Enver Yılmaz, said Greek border officials stripped them of their clothes and beat them.
"They took us to a wet and cold prison. The blankets where we were staying were all wet. We froze. They treat women, children, everyone badly," he said.
"They put us in boats like that (naked) and pushed us back to the Turkish side. May Allah be pleased with the Turkish soldiers and Turkey. They gave us shoes, clothes and food."
On Thursday, Turkish authorities recovered the bodies of seven more migrants who were said to be pushed back by Greek border forces, raising the death toll from 12 on Wednesday.
The migrants were found frozen to death in the northwestern province of Edirne, which shares a border with Greece.
Commenting on the incident, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan slammed the EU's border protection agency Frontex for cooperating with Greece and the bloc for turning a blind eye to the deaths of migrants. It is unacceptable to remain indifferent to such an incident, he said.
"Frontex is a useless EU organization that does nothing but provide assistance to Greece, which lets migrants die at sea, borders," Erdoğan told reporters in a news conference on Thursday before heading to Ukraine.
Erdoğan said he would bring up the issue of the alleged ill-treatment of migrants by Greece during every meeting he holds with world leaders.
“We will lead our struggle in front of the world,” he said. “We will continue to be on the side of the oppressed. We consider this to be our humanitarian duty.”
Meanwhile, Greek Migration and Asylum Minister Notis Mitarachi issued a statement on Twitter saying that the incident was a "tragedy."
However, he denied that Greek forces had pushed them back toward Turkey, saying any suggestion otherwise "is patently false."
Turkey and Greece have been key transit points for asylum-seekers aiming to cross into Europe to start new lives, especially those fleeing war and persecution.
Turkey and international human rights groups 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 people, including women and children.
The Human Rights Committee of the Turkish Parliament also said Thursday that Greece has been convicted in the conscience of humanity for its treatment of migrants.
Speaking to the committee members, Hakan Çavuşoğlu said: "Greece has been convicted in the conscience of humanity for its practices towards migrants and will one day be condemned before international law."
The deaths of the migrants "has once again revealed the extent of Greece's actions against human rights and international law, and how it recklessly endangered the lives of migrants," he added.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) on Thursday called for an urgent investigation after the freezing to death of irregular migrants who had their clothes taken and were pushed back at the Greek border.
UNHCR spokesperson Shabia Mantoo described the freezing to death of irregular migrants as "heart-breaking" in a statement.
"We are shocked and deeply saddened by the news," said Mantoo, explaining that the refugee agency is following up on the deaths with all the parties concerned.
"We call for an urgent investigation. We reiterate our call to ensure that the lives, rights, safety, and well-being of refugees and migrants are protected and put first," said the official.
In a tweet, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said: "Every person searching for a better life deserves safety and dignity. We need safe, legal routes for migrants and refugees."
An EU official also said on Thursday that pushbacks leading to the death of migrants at the Greek-Turkish border are "intolerable."
The European Commission is aware of the reports on migrants freezing to death at the Greek-Turkish border after being pushed back by Greek authorities, Anitta Hipper, spokesperson for home affairs, told a news conference in Brussels.
"Any such treatment, if confirmed to be true, would be intolerable," she said, expressing "deep regret" over the loss of lives.
She added that EU Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson is "in close contact with the Greek minister" on the issue.
Germany on Thursday expressed regret over the death of 19 migrants at the Greek-Turkish border and stressed that any border protection measure must comply with international humanitarian standards.
"The Federal Government has noted with concern the reports of deaths on the Greek-Turkish border. It's important to find out the actual circumstances of this incident," the Foreign Ministry said in a written statement.
The ministry underlined that states are bound by human rights conventions and authorities should observe their obligations while taking border protection measures.
"Any type of border protection measure must meet the humanitarian standards under all circumstances, and should comply with the provisions of European and international law," the statement said.
Greece has long been criticized by human rights organizations for violently detaining irregular migrants and forcibly returning them to Turkey, in violation of its human rights obligations under the EU and international law. Ankara has repeatedly urged Greece to stop illegal pushbacks, but Athens denied engaging in the practice.