Greece reports Turkey to EU after rescue mission saves 400 migrants on ship

ATHENS— Greece has claimed that Turkey broke an EU refugee deal by refusing to take back a vessel carrying nearly 400 migrants which had to be rescued by Greek authorities over the weekend.

On Sunday, 382 people disembarked from the Turkish-flagged cargo ship, which had set off a distress signal due to engine failure, after Greece allowed it to dock at the Aegean island of Kos.

It was described by Greece as “one of the largest search and rescue operations in the eastern Mediterranean”.

But Notis Mitarachi, the Greek migration minister, accused Turkey of refusing to take back the ship, even though it was aware that it had set off, violating the terms of the 2016 EU migration pact.

“We have notified the EU that Turkey is refusing to take their vessel back,” Mitarachi said in a written statement.

“Greece has rescued hundreds of thousands in the last seven years – it is time for the EU to act and provide impactful solidarity and ensure the EU/Turkey statement is upheld.”

Turkey argues that the EU has not fulfilled its side of the deal on the transfer of those funds.

EU leaders and Ankara signed a deal in March 2016 under which Turkey was to reduce the flow of migrants through its territory to Bulgaria and Greece in return for billions of euro in financial aid.

Greece and Turkey have accused each other of failing to honour the agreement, which was sealed after more than a million migrants and asylum seekers entered the EU in 2015.

The Greek islands of the eastern Aegean are often the first EU port of call for large numbers of migrants and asylum seekers travelling west via Turkey.

According to Greek officials, most of the migrants on the Turkish-flagged ship were from Pakistan and Bangladesh, some from Afghanistan. Other reports said the majority were Afghan.The passengers were taken to a coronavirus testing site at a reception centre where they were placed in quarantine.

The incident comes days after four migrants, including two children, drowned after a boat sank off the island of Chios.

The vessel set out from Turkey in strong winds, and none of the occupants had been given a life vest, the Greek Coastguard said.

Most on board were Somali, Eritrean and Sudanese.

Mitarachi said the migrants should not have been allowed to depart Turkish shores in a precarious and overcrowded dinghy.

Greece is one of the main routes into the European Union for migrants and refugees crossing from neighboring Turkey.

Mitarachi said in the wake of the incident that Turkish authorities had to take firmer action against criminal people smuggling operations and prevent such journeys from taking place.

Athens has frequently blamed Ankara for not taking sufficient action to curb smugglers who send out migrants and refugees in unsafe boats and dinghies from its shores.

Nearly one million people, mainly Syrian refugees, arrived in the EU in 2015 after crossing to Greek islands close to Turkey. Since the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan in August, many EU states fear a replay of that crisis.