17 Oct 2022

UN condemns 'deeply distressing' discovery of 92 naked migrants at Greece-Turkey border

9:06 am on 17 October 2022
A police officer patrols the delta of Evros river, near Alexandroupoli, along the Greek-Turkish border, on 8 June 2021.

A police officer patrols the delta of Evros river along the Greek-Turkish border, on 8 June 2021. Photo: AFP / Sakis Mitrolidis

The United Nations' refugee agency has said it is "deeply distressed" by the discovery of almost 100 naked men at the border between Greece and Turkey.

The two countries have blamed each other for the plight of the 92 migrants.

Greece laid the blame at Turkey's door, saying its "behaviour" was a "shame for civilisation".

Turkey denied it sent the men across the Evros river and accused its neighbour of "cruelty".

As both sides blamed each other, the United Nation's refugee agency called for an investigation and said it was "deeply distressed by the shocking reports and images".

Greek police said they rescued the 92 men who were discovered naked, and some with injuries, close to its northern border with Turkey on Friday.

They said an investigation by them and officials from the EU border agency Frontex, found evidence that the migrants crossed the river into Greek territory in rubber dinghies from Turkey.

"Border policemen... discovered 92 illegal migrants without clothes, some of whom had injuries on their bodies," the statement said.

Greek authorities said the men were immediately given clothing, food and first aid.

It was not clear how and why the men had lost their clothes.

Frontex said the men were mainly from Afghanistan and Syria, and that the organisation's fundamental rights officer had been informed of a potential rights violation.

Greek minister for civil protection, Takis Theodorikakos, accused Turkey of "instrumentalising illegal immigration" in the latest in a series of recriminations on migration between the neighbours.

Speaking on Greek television he claimed that many of the migrants had told Frontex that "three Turkish army vehicles had transferred them" to the river which acts as a natural border. The BBC has not been able to independently verify this claim.

"One would expect a working explanation from the Turkish government's side," Theodorikakos said.

Ankara has denied any responsibility.

A day earlier, Greek Migration Minister Notis Mitarachi said in a tweet that Turkey's treatment of the migrants was a "shame for civilisation". He said Athens expected Ankara to investigate the incident and "protect... its border with the EU".

İsmail Çatakli, a spokesperson for Turkey's interior ministry hit back at Mr Mitarachi, writing on Twitter: "As you couldn't find one single case of human rights violation by [Turkey], you just seek to expose image of your cruelty you've inflicted as if [Turkey's] done it!

"Spend your time to obey human rights, not for manipulations & dishonesty!

"C'mon, it's not big deal; just be little bit civilised!"

In response, the UNHCR said it is "deeply distressed by the shocking reports and images that have surfaced of the group of men.

"However, we have not as yet had access to the group and no first-hand information from them as to what happened.

"We understand the group will be transferred to the Reception and Identification Centre in Fylakio in the coming days, where we hope to access them.

"We condemn any cruel and degrading treatment and call for a full investigation."

The discovery of the men comes days after a leaked report by an EU agency criticised some senior staff at Frontex for covering up illegal pushbacks of migrants by Greece to Turkey, something Athens denies. Frontex says such practices by its staff are a thing of the past.

Last month, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan used a UN address to accuse Greece of transforming the Aegean Sea into a "cemetery" with "oppressive policies" on immigration.

Greece was on the frontline of a European migration crisis in 2015 and 2016, when around a million refugees fleeing war and poverty in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan arrived in the country, mainly via Turkey.

The number of arrivals has fallen since then. But Greek authorities said they had recently seen an increase in attempted arrivals through the Turkish land border and the Greek islands.

Greece has urged Turkey to respect a 2016 deal with the European Union in which Ankara agreed to contain the flow of migrants to Europe in exchange for billions of euros in aid.

Athens will soon extend a 40km fence along its northern border with Turkey to prevent migrants from entering the country, Theodorikakos said.