Hundreds of people in Istanbul have marched to the Greek consulate to protest the deaths of 19 migrants near Turkey’s border with Greece.
The demonstration on Saturday, organised by Turkish humanitarian groups, saw about 300 protesters walk to the consulate behind a banner reading “Close borders to racism, open to humanity.”
“This is more than hypocrisy, it’s brutality … We invite the Greek government to abandon these ugly policies,” Kenan Alpay, vice chairman of humanitarian group Ozgur-Der, said referring to the pushbacks.
Turkish authorities said the 19 migrants froze to death earlier this week after being illegally pushed back across the border by Greek guards. Athens has strongly rejected the accusation.
“Greece is not doing this alone. It is the joint decision and will of Europe that leads to these pushbacks,” said Fehmi Bulent Yildirim, chairman of IHH, a humanitarian aid group.
“People were stripped of their clothes and their belongings were taken. They were left to die,” he added, calling on the European Parliament to “take action on this issue as soon as possible.”
Turkey has frequently held Greece responsible for illegal pushbacks of asylum seekers and migrants seeking to cross the northwestern land border or trying to reach Greece’s Aegean islands on inflatable dinghys.
In an interview with broadcaster AHaber on Friday, Vice President Fuat Oktay accused Greece of “murder,” adding that “all EU countries, unfortunately, are responsible for the deaths of 19 people.”
Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has pledged to raise the alleged ill-treatment of migrants by Greece during his meetings with world leaders.
Greece’s Migration Minister Notis Mitarachi has described the deaths as a “tragedy” but strongly denied the claim that Greek forces had pushed back the migrants, insisting that the migrants never made it to the border.
Turkey is a major crossing point for migrants and asylum seekers from the Middle East, Asia and Africa seeking a better life in EU countries, with most crossing into Greece.
The EU, which saw 1 million mostly Syrian refugees enter its territory in 2015, signed a migration agreement with Turkey in 2016 that has seen the flow of people dramatically reduced.
On the other hand, Turkey already hosts four million refugees – more than any other country in the world – and is taking new security measures on its borders to humanely prevent a new influx of migrants.