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Turkey-Greece tensions spiral into bigger crisis over 92 naked refugees

The undated photo shows refugees rushing to cross the border between Greece and Macedonia outside the small Greek town of Idomeni.

Turkey and Greece have again traded barbs over the ill-treatment of refugees after more than 90 asylum-seekers were found naked on the Greek side of the Evros River earlier this week.

In a series of recent social media posts, Greek Migration Minister Notis Mitarachi laid the blame at Turkey's door, saying its "behavior" was a "shame for civilization."

“I have requested & will see the president of the UN General Assembly in New York, I have informed the Commission & will show photos & videos,” the minister said. “We expect Ankara to investigate the incident and protect at last its borders with the EU.”

“[Turkey’s] behavior towards 92 migrants whom we rescued at the borders today is a shame for civilization.”

Responding to the accusation, Turkey’s presidential office said Mitarakis, also known as Mitarachi, “is once again conducting perception management tactics by using the photos of stripped naked migrants for which there is no location, nor any date provided.”

The Turkish government’s spokesman Fahrettin Altun said, “We warn Greece to abandon its harsh treatment of refugees as soon as possible, to cease its baseless and false charges against [Turkey], and to deliver the dignity of government.”

Turkey also posted a lengthy statement on its official presidential website, accusing Greece of regularly abusing refugees, and posting photos it alleged were evidence.

Greek police said they rescued the 92 men who were found naked, and some with injuries, close to the northern border with Turkey on October 14. Greek police and European border guards found them on the river bank in the morning, “abandoned, completely naked, and completely unequipped.”

The men, mainly from Afghanistan and Syria, were found close to the frontier after crossing the Evros River in rubber dinghies. Children were among the group. Some have roots in Morocco, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

Greek police say the men told them Turkish authorities drove them to the border in governmental vehicles, before boarding them onto rubber dinghies and telling them to cross.

“They told us it took the Turkish military police 24 hours to gather everyone at the river’s edge, which apparently was an ordeal because the people had no food or water at that time, and then after stripping them they pressed them to cross,” said Manos Logothetis, head of Greece’s First Reception Service.

Turkey was in a 2016 agreement with the EU to hold back refugees trying to cross into Europe. But Ankara unilaterally abandoned the treaty obligation to hold back or readmit asylum-seekers, accusing the EU of failing to live up to its own obligations under the treaty.

Greece and Turkey have been in a full-blown information war about who is mistreating refugees since March 2020.

Greece routinely accuses Turkey of pushing refugees forward to blackmail Europe for more money to care for them. And Turkey routinely accuses Greece of pushing refugees back without processing their asylum claims, which is illegal under the Geneva Convention of 1951.

In February, Greece rejected Turkish accusations that its border guards stripped and summarily expelled 12 refugees who later died of exposure in Turkey, near Greek borders. Turkey has also accused Bulgaria of similar tactics. The United Nations’ refugee agency has called for an investigation and said it is “deeply distressed by the shocking reports and images.”

“We are asking for a full investigation because the circumstances are not clear,” said Stella Nanou, the agency’s spokeswoman in Athens. “We are always against degrading and cruel treatment and what we have seen is shocking.”

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