Europe

Greece tows Turkish migrant ship to port

Published : November 01, 2021 16:29 IST

A photo from the Greek coast guard shows migrants and refugees sitting inside a migration camp on the island of Kos. Photo: Hellenic Coast Guard/AP/picture alliance

Turkey failed to respond to a distress signal from the Murat 729, which was carrying some 400 Afghan migrants.

Nearly 400 migrants and refugees disembarked on October 31 from a Turkish-flagged cargo ship that Greece allowed to dock on its territory, two days after the ship lost power in the Aegean Sea. On October 29, the Murat 729 sent a distress signal after its engines failed in international waters. The ship was later towed to "a safe anchorage'' off the Greek island of Kos near the Turkish coast, Greece's coast guard said.

The coast guard said the migrants, mostly Afghan nationals, were transported to a reception center on the island. Local media said Health Ministry experts would quarantine the group and test them for COVID-19. Out of the 400 people who left the boat, six were detained for questioning, the Migration Ministry said. There was no information available about the health of the passengers, who are mostly male.

No response from Ankara

The Athens News Agency reported that the government in Athens, along with the European Commission, had contacted Turkish authorities to ask them to take back the vessel, but with no response. Greek Merchant Marine Minister Giannis Plakiotakis said on October 30 that the ship set sail "obviously with the knowledge of the Turkish coast guard" and that Ankara had "once again failed to comply with its responsibilities toward the European Union."

At the height of the European migrant crisis in 2016, Turkey signed a deal with the E.U. to sharply reduce the flow of migrants through its territory to E.U. countries in return for billions of euros in financial aid. From 2015 to 2016, more than 1 million people, mainly Syrian refugees, arrived in the E.U. after crossing from Turkey to Greece.

E.U. fears surge of Afghan migrants

Although the number of arrivals has fallen sharply over the past five years, after the Taliban victory in Afghanistan in August many E.U. states fear a fresh surge in migrants and asylum-seekers from the war-ravaged country. Both Greece and Turkey have accused the other of failing to honor the migration pact. On October 26, four migrants, three of them children, drowned after a boat in which they and 23 others were trying to cross from Turkey to Greece sank off the island of Chios.

mm/sri (AFP, AP, Reuters)

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