Erdogan Accuses Greece of Pushing Refugee Boats Back in Aegean

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused Greece of intercepting boats of refugees in the Aegean Sea and pushing them back toward Turkey as the European Union comes under mounting pressure over migrants seeking to reach Europe.

“I don’t know what Greece will do if we open the doors,” Erdogan said in a thinly veiled reminder of his threat to unleash a migrant crisis at the doorstep of Europe, urging Greece to appreciate Turkey’s hosting of the world’s largest refugee population instead of blaming Ankara for the migration wave. “It is Greece that is condemning refugees to death by skewering their boats.”

Erdogan spoke during a joint presser with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban in Ankara late Thursday as Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko threatened to shut down a key pipeline carrying Russia gas to the EU, escalating a dispute flaring over migrants seeking to cross from his country into the EU.

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Greece has acknowledged intercepting boats that come from Turkey under its rights in accordance with European regulations.

“Greece is a European rule-of-law state. It protects its borders, which are also European Union’s borders and at the same time it saves human lives at sea,” government spokesman Ioannis Oikonomou said in response to Erdogan.

“The recent developments on the Belarus-EU border in Poland and the Baltic states, once again underlines that Europe won’t tolerate the instrumentalization of the immigration issue,” Oikonomou said. “And this is a message that everyone should take seriously.”

Greece and Turkey, neighbors and NATO allies, have a fraught relationship and are at odds over a series of issues from territorial disputes in the Eastern Mediterranean to the ethnically-split island of Cyprus and refugees. The European Union and Turkey came to a financial agreement in 2016 to curb the volume of migrants coming from Syria and seeking asylum in Europe — but it’s been a problematic understanding that is holding together with some difficulty.

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