Marchers in Athens protest reported Greek migrant pushbacks

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Protesters shout slogans during a protest against violence at the Greek-Turkish border, in Athens, on Sunday, Feb. 6, 2022. About 400 people, half of them migrants and the rest local sympathizers, marched through central Athens Sunday in protest at what they claim are Greeces pushbacks of migrants and refugees at the border with Turkey. (AP Photo/Yorgos Karahalis)

ATHENS – Hundreds of people marched through central Athens on Sunday to protest what they say are Greece’s pushbacks of migrants and refugees at the border with Turkey.

The marchers carried an inflatable dinghy, like those migrants use to cross the sea from Turkey, and a banner saying “Stop pushbacks, stop border violence.”

The protest followed a similar one on Saturday in Istanbul organized by Turkish humanitarian groups who marched to the Greek consulate to protest the recent deaths of 19 migrants near Turkey’s border with Greece. At least one march leader in Turkey charged that Greek authorities had taken clothing from the migrants before pushing them back to die in freezing temperatures. Greek officials say the migrants who died never reached the border.

Turkey has frequently alleged that Greece carries out pushbacks of migrants seeking to cross the northwestern land border or trying to reach Greece’s Aegean Sea islands. Greece strongly denies the allegation, although the government has taken credit for better patrolling land and sea borders, significantly cutting the influx of migrants.

“The tragic incident at the Turkish border highlights the importance of combating illegal immigration and smuggling networks that put the lives of people in mortal danger purely for economic gain," said Greece's Migration and Asylum Minister Notis Mitarachi.

He also urged Turkey to fulfill its obligations to the European Union and prevent migrants from leaving its territory.

Greece says Turkey is weaponizing the migrants’ plight to stoke tensions at the border, as it did in March 2020, when it actively encouraged tens of thousands of migrants to try to cross into northeastern Greece.

Migrants have sometimes succeeded in crossing the land border but arrivals by sea into Greece of late have become almost nonexistent. Migrants, and their traffickers, have instead attempted the far longer sea trip from Turkey to Italy, sometimes with deadly results.

Greece denies any responsibility for migrant deaths in attempted crossings.

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