Greece said it blocked hundreds of migrants from crossing Aegean

File photo. A photo made available 6 October 2015 of migrants arriving in an overloaded rubber dhingy across the Mediterranean Sea from Turkey, at the coast near Skala Sikaminias, Lesbos island, Greece, 5 October 2015. [EPA/ZOLTAN BALOGH]

Greece said on Monday (23 May) it had prevented around 600 migrants from crossing the Aegean into its territorial waters from neighbouring Turkey, in the largest attempted entry this year.

A spokesman for the Greek coastguard said five sail boats and four dinghies had set off from the Turkish coast early in the morning.

“Greek patrol vessels were able to quickly locate the vessels and inform the Turkish coastguard,” the spokesman told AFP.

All the vessels either headed back or were intercepted, he added.

“All the incidents occurred inside Turkish territorial waters” between the Greek islands of Chios and Samos, he said.

Athens regularly blames Ankara for not taking sufficient action to curb people smugglers who send out migrants in unsafe boats and dinghies from its shores, in breach of a 2016 accord with the European Union.

Greece is a member of the 27-nation bloc but Turkey is not. The EU pays Turkey billions to control migration between its shores and the nearby Greek islands.

Greece’s tough border controls have been dogged by accusations from rights groups that the Greek coastguard has been engaging in illegally forcing migrants to return to Turkey.

Athens has always denied that its security forces engage in illegal pushbacks.

Commission asks Greece for transparency on pushbacks to release migration funds

The European Commission has asked Greece to set up an “independent” mechanism to monitor and avoid pushbacks of migrants at its border as a condition to release an additional €15.83 million in migration funding requested by Athens.

In March, Greece’s national transparency authority said a four-month investigation found no evidence of such practices.

EU border agency Frontex has also repeatedly been accused by rights groups of illegally returning migrants across EU borders.

Frontex head Fabrice Leggeri resigned last month amid an investigation by the European anti-fraud office OLAF, reportedly into alleged mismanagement.

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