ATHENS (AFP): Greece has blocked over 150,000 undocumented migrants on its land and maritime border so far this year, the migration minister said Sunday.
“The entry of 154,102 irregular migrants was averted since the start of the year. Around 50,000 attempted to invade Greece in August alone,” Notis Mitarachi told Eleftheros Typos daily.
Border control is a top priority for the conservative Greek government that came to power in 2019, and will seek re-election next year.
Last month, the government announced plans to extend a 40-kilometre (25-mile) long wall along the Greek-Turkish border at Evros by another 80 kilometres as part of efforts to control the flow of migrants.
It will also install thermal cameras and deploy an additional 250 border guards.
Greece is often the country of choice for people fleeing Africa and the Middle East to try to reach a better life in the European Union.
Thousands come via Turkey by crossing the Evros River, and over the narrow and perilous Aegean Sea crossing separating the traditional rivals.
Charity groups have accused Athens of illegally turning back migrants or forcing them over the border to Turkey — something Greece’s conservative government has repeatedly denied.
Mitarachi on Sunday denied Athens was involved in illegal pushbacks and accused Turkey of engaging in “violent push forwards”.
Athens last month accused Turkey of forcibly pushing a group of stranded migrants onto a small Greek islet on the river.
Rights groups at the time said a five-year-old child in the group had died after the Greek government for days denied that the migrants were on Greek territory.
Mitarachi has cast doubt on the incident. On Sunday he insisted that the family in question has declared having four children and that they were all rescued by Greek police.
“To put it very simply, the family brought forward four children, and four we rescued,” he said.
“Many inconsistencies have been noted in what (the family) said at the beginning, what they said afterwards, and in what has been proven so far,” the minister said.