According to some Turkish officials, 12 migrants died on Wednesday in Turkey, most of them found with small clothes in a frozen field near the border with Greece.
A Turkish government minister said they froze to death and accused Greek border guards of ripping off migrants and forcing them back to the border before they died.
Greece’s Immigration Minister, Notis Mitarachi, said the deaths were a tragedy but denied the Turkish accusations, calling it “false propaganda”.
Turkey’s Interior Minister, Suleyman Soylu, said in a Posts on Twitter wrote in English: “Twelve of the 22 migrants repelled by the Greek Border Units, stripped of their clothes and shoes, froze to death.”
He added that the European Union was “incapacitated, weak and devoid of humanitarian sentiment”, calling Greek border guards thugs.
“These migrants never reach the border,” said Mitarachi, who is in Lille, France, attending an informal EU summit on migration, said in a statement. “Any offer they have made, or indeed have been pushed back to Turkey, is complete nonsense.”
Turkey is a major route for migrants from Asia, Africa and the Middle East trying to reach European countries and since 2015, when more than a million people migrated to Europe, they have passed through Greek. Some arrive by sea in dinghy and to the Greek islands just a few miles off the coast of Turkey. Others tried to sneak across the land border, demarcated by a river.
For more than a year, Greece has taken tougher measures to keep migrants out. It built fences and controlled land borders, forcing migrants from Turkey to return across the river. The Greek authorities also pulled migrants arriving by sea back to Turkish waters.
Relations between Turkey and Greece are often strained, but refugee officials from the United Nations and other international organizations are also Criticize Greece for obstaclesis illegal under international law and they say put migrants at risk.
Four Turkish officials confirmed that 12 migrants had died and that they appeared to have frozen to death.
Soylu, Turkey’s interior minister, posted blurry photos of eight men lying next to a muddy road, some shirtless and others wearing shorts. He said their bodies were found near the Turkish border town of Ipsala.
In his tweet, the minister described the 12 migrants killed as part of a larger group of 22. The fate of the remaining 10 was not immediately clear.
The region, along with much of the country, was hit by a severe blizzard and freezing temperatures last week, although the cold has eased in recent days.
The mayor of Ipsala, Abdullah Naci Unsal, said the migrants may have died overnight between Tuesday and Wednesday. Office of the Governor of the Turkish province of Edirne, bordering Greece, speak in a statement that 11 of the migrants were found frozen to death and another died later after being taken to hospital.
Emergency units and security forces are still scouring the area for more migrants, the statement said.
The mayor of Ipsala said opposition from Greece – often at night – had increased since 2020, when President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced that he would open the border to refugees.
“It rained last night,” he said in a phone interview Wednesday. Temperatures in the area could drop to freezing, he added, noting that it would be even colder if a person got wet.
“They are often deported at night,” he said. “They gathered them there, took everything they had, phones, etc., threw their clothes in the water and then pushed them back,” he said of the Greek border guards.
The border area is agricultural, crisscrossed with canals and the Evros River, and migrants often get wet trying to cross. The mayor said migrants die almost weekly when trying to cross the border or being pushed back. Others drowned in rivers and were swept out to sea.
International refugee officials drew attention to case of migrants, among them Syrians and Afghans, who were detained in Greece, robbed, and sometimes stripped of their underwear before being forced back into the river that separates the two countries. Some have described in interviews being beaten and detained by border agents and police, or by groups of plainclothes men.
Turkey is host to more than four million refugees, mostly Syrians, but also several hundred thousand Afghans. In 2020, Mr Erdogan announced he would open the borders to migrants entering Europe, saying his country could no longer handle the huge numbers of people fleeing wars in the region.
He accused European leaders of failing to keep their promises to help Turkey shoulder the burden of taking in 3.6 million Syrian refugees. The European Union agreed a deal with Turkey in 2016 to provide 6 billion euros, about $6.7 billion, over several years to control the flow of migrants and settlers in Turkey.
Greece accuses Turkey of using migrants as political leverage in dealings with the European Union and implementing measures to strengthen border controls. The number of migrants arriving in Greece has decreased over the past two years, but the number arriving in Turkey continues to increase.
Niki Kitsantonis contribution report from Athens.
https://www.nytimes.com/2022/02/02/world/europe/greece-turkey-migrant-deaths.html Turkey blames Greece after 12 migrants freeze to death