The Turkish coast guard rescued 97 asylum-seekers in the Aegean Sea after they were pushed back to Turkish territorial waters by Greek authorities, a security source said Wednesday.
Acting on a tip-off, Turkish coast guard teams rescued 18 asylum-seekers from a rubber boat off the coast of Marmaris, Muğla, the source told Anadolu Agency (AA) on condition of anonymity due to restrictions on speaking to the media.
In two other rescue operations, the Turkish coast guard also rescued 53 people seeking asylum off the coasts of Kuşadası and Didim, and 26 others from a rubber boat off the coast of Bodrum in western Aydin province. They were also pushed back by Greek coastal authorities.
After routine checks, they were taken to the provincial migration authority.
Turkey has 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 European Union, 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.
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.
Between January 2020 and March 2021, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) documented around 300 reported incidents of illegal expulsions around the Aegean islands and Greece's northeastern land border with Turkey. Several migrant support groups, including the Greek Helsinki Monitor, in May filed a complaint with the European Court of Justice against Frontex, the EU's border monitoring agency.
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 back migrants to Turkish waters.
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.