ATHENS: The Greek government on Tuesday accused Turkey of encouraging Somali migration through promotion campaigns and visa offers, and then allowing the migrants to continue on to Greece.
Athens has long accused Ankara of weaponizing migration to pile pressure on the European Union.
Turkey counters that the EU is providing insufficient support to enable it to accommodate around four million migrants, many of whom want to travel to Europe.
In February and March, there were days of skirmishes between migrants and police at the Greek-Turkish border after a surge the Greek government says was orchestrated by Turkey.
“In Somalia, we understand that the Turkish authorities, the ministry of education and other ministries, are promoting immigration to Turkey,” Migration Minister Notis Mitarachi told a news conference.
Citing alleged testimony from Somali migrants, Mitarachi said applicants were being “facilitated” by a Turkish liaison office in Mogadishu to obtain visas based on certificates and documents provided by Turkish-funded institutions in Somalia.
These include a hospital and a university in Mogadishu, the minister said.
“We understand that as many as 300 people have flown to Turkey in this way,” Mitarachi said.
“These people are essentially arriving legally in Turkey, for the express purpose of illegal trafficking into Europe.”
“When Somalis arrive in Istanbul, they are transferred in vans, to specific areas of the city where they stay until their relocation to the western Turkish coast can be arranged,” he said.
“It is obvious that these people are not at risk in Turkey and therefore should be given asylum there, if appropriate.
“It is worrying that Turkey appears to be facilitating the arrival of these migrants by willingly providing visas for travel,” Mitarachi said.
He added that Somali asylum seekers were also allegedly using “subsidised tickets and visas paid for by NGOs.”
There was no immediate comment from Ankara to the allegations.
A Greek migration ministry source said relevant testimony had been drawn from Somali survivors of a migrant sinking on December 2 in which two women died.
Athens has accused the Turkish coast guard of failing to assist the boat, which it said had issued a distress call in Turkish waters.
Turkey has accused Greece of engaging in illegal pushbacks.
On Tuesday, Ankara’s coast guard said it had rescued at least 69 asylum seekers whose boats were allegedly pushed back by the Greek coast guard into Turkish waters.
Mitarachi on Tuesday said Athens was “very proud” of the Greek coast guard’s life-saving efforts.
“We believe no pushbacks have happened, that is the outcome of our investigation,” he said, adding that a similar probe by European border agency Frontex also found “no evidence of any breach of rules up to now.”