ISTANBUL, Feb 2 (Reuters) – Turkish authorities have found the bodies of 12 migrants who froze to death near Greece, Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said on Wednesday, accusing Greek guards of sending them back across the border without shoes.
Greece has long denied Turkish claims that its forces push migrants back into Turkey, or sink migrant boats at sea. On Wednesday, Migration Minister Notis Mitarachi dismissed Soylu’s remarks as “false propaganda,” saying Turkey needed to do more to prevent migrants from setting off from there.
Soylu said on Twitter the 12 people who died were part of a larger group of 22 migrants who were stripped of their shoes and clothing by Greek border security. He did not specify the nationality of the migrants.
“These migrants never made it to the border,” Mitarachi said in a statement. “Any suggestion that they did, or indeed were pushed back into Turkey, is utter nonsense.”
Greece is one of the main routes into the European Union for migrants and refugees from Africa, the Middle East and beyond, though the flow has tapered off since 2015-2016, when more than a million people traversed the country to other EU states.
In March 2016, the EU reached a deal with Turkey to stem the flow of refugees into the bloc and for Ankara to host Syrians fleeing the war in their country in return for billions of euros.
Turkey currently hosts some 4 million Syrian refugees, the world’s largest refugee population, as well as some 300,000 Afghans. It has said it will not accept any more migrants. (Reporting by Ali Kucukgocmen and Ece Toksabay in Istanbul and Karolina Tagaris in Athens Editing by Daren Butler, Frank Jack Daniel and Mark Heinrich)