Kathimerini Greece Newsroom
Hellenic Coast Guard officers have told Kathimerini they were investigating the role of Turkish fishing boats that were close to the location where a dinghy sunk late Wednesday and a confirmed 18 people drowned, the deadlier of the two incidents involving migrants.
When the incident happened, three Turkish fishing boats were close, the coast guard officers said. Also, a few hours after the small dinghy sank, two others, taking advantage of somewhat calmer seas, reached the island of Lesvos without incident, carrying a total of 40 migrants.
The officers added that they were waiting for the survivors to be questioned before they could say with any certainty that the fishing boats were, in fact, involved. But, they said, it is quite conceivable that smugglers used the fishing boat to carry the migrants to the edge of Greece’s territorial waters before launching the dinghies and that the small vessels did not, in fact, sail from the Turkish coast.
The coast guard officers commented that, in the past, smugglers did not allow vessels full of migrants to sail when the seas were as rough as they were late Wednesday and early Thursday. It seems that such precautions are no longer taken. “In order to get the money sooner, they sent them to their deaths,” an officer said.
A fierce dispute between Greece and Turkey has erupted over the plight of the migrants: Turkey accuses Greece of callously pushing back migrants along both the land and sea borders. Speaking at the United Nations General Assembly last month, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused Greece of “turning the Aegean Sea into a graveyard” and held up photographs of dead migrant children. Greece, on the other hand, denies that pushbacks exist, but also insists on the right to protect its borders, which also happen to be those of the European Union. It accuses Turkey of turning a blind eye to the smuggling when not actively pushing migrants forward.
“Once again, Turkey’s tolerance of gangs of ruthless traffickers has cost human lives,” Greek Shipping Minister Giannis Plakiotakis said Thursday.