UN officials are concerned by reports that Greek officials are sending back irregular migrants coming via Turkey -- push-back -- with no opportunity for them to seek asylum, including reports of violence.
The alleged policy made headlines this week after three migrants were found in Turkish villages, without trousers or shoes, apparently frozen to death, reportedly victims of the policy.
The UN Refugee Agency UNHCR "continues to receive numerous credible reports of alleged push-backs by Greek authorities, including by detaining persons, giving no opportunity to apply for asylum, and then summarily returning them to Turkey via the [border Meric] Evros River, with violence sometimes being used," said a UN statement Wednesday.
"Such reports are certainly a concern and UNHCR has raised this issue with the Greek authorities in the past and called for preventive measures," the statement added.
Countries have obligations under national, EU, and international law to protect asylum-seekers and refugees, the Greece office of the UNHCR told Anadolu Agency on Wednesday.
The Meric River -- called Evros in Greek -- is a dangerous route for irregular migrants, especially in winter, said the agency statement.
The alleged push-back policy is risky, especially for children and other vulnerable individuals, said the UNHCR.
Speaking to Anadolu Agency, Greek Minister of Citizen Protection Olga Gerovasili denied the reports.
Seizures, forced return reported in Greece
In testimony, migrants have said Greek security forces subjected them to violence and sent them back by boat.
Afghan Jamalvddin Malangi, 29, who said he knew one of the migrants who froze to death, told reporters that after crossing the river into Greece, Greek police forced him to return to Turkey by boat.
Greek soldiers have no mercy, said Malangi, but praised Turkish soldiers' merciful attitude.
Another migrant, Yasin Sidri, 25, from Morocco, told reporters that they were beaten by iron bars and their clothes, phones, and money were seized by Greek security forces. He said that they were sent back to Turkey via the Meric river.
Algerian Abdulkadir Fikras, 23, said that after entering Greece, Greek police wearing masks took his migrant group to the river, seized their clothes, money, and phones, and sent them back to Turkey.
"People in the Turkish village where we took shelter and Turkish officials treated us very well," he added.
Roughly 14,000 irregular migrants came to Greece in 2018, according to Greek officials.
Turkey has been the main route for refugees trying to cross into Europe, especially since the beginning of the Syrian civil war in 2011.
Source: Anadolu Agency