ISTANBUL—Turkish authorities on Feb. 3 found seven more dead bodies near Turkey’s border with Greece, raising to 19 the number of migrants who have frozen to death at the frontier.
Turkey has blamed Greece for the deaths, accusing Greek border guards of illegally pushing the migrants back over the frontier. Greece has strongly rejected the accusation.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan vowed on Feb. 3 to expose what he said was Greece’s illegal pushback of migrants at every occasion.
Turkey’s interior minister said the day before that, 12 migrants had died after allegedly being forced back into Turkey. He said they were found near the border, “without shoes and stripped of their clothes.” One of the migrants was found alive but later died in a hospital. There was no information about the migrants’ nationalities.
A statement from the governor’s office for the border province of Edirne said seven more bodies were found on Feb. 3. The state-run Anadolu Agency said gendarmerie forces were searching the area with the help of drones and that medical teams were on stand-by.
Tacettin Sivrikaya, the head of the Edirne lawyers’ association, said the migrants were part of a group of 22 who were allegedly pushed back into Turkey. They were “thrown” into a river that flows between Greece and Turkey, he claimed.
“Their clothing and their boots were taken away,” he told reporters.
He called for collaboration with lawyers in Greece to find a solution to the migrants’ ordeal at the border and said those responsible for the deaths must be brought to justice.
Turkey is a major crossing point for migrants from the Middle East, Asia and Africa seeking a better life in European Union countries.
Most try to cross into Greece—a key gateway to the EU for people fleeing war or poverty—by either crossing the northeastern land border or cramming into smuggling boats headed for the eastern Aegean Sea islands.
Speaking to reporters before departing for a visit to Ukraine, Erdogan said he would bring up the issue of the alleged ill-treatment of migrants by Greece during every meeting he holds with world leaders. He also accused the European Union of not speaking out against illegal pushbacks of migrants and the EU’s border and coast guard agency, Frontex, of allegedly “supporting” Greece.
“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 and Islamic duty.”
Greece’s Migration Minister, Notis Mitarachi, on Feb. 2, 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.
He also accused Turkey of failing to prevent migrants from approaching the border area and undertaking “these dangerous journeys.” (AP)