Greece has accused Turkey of trying to provoke it by attempting to push boats carrying migrants into Greek waters, a claim Ankara strongly rejected.
Greece and Turkey disagree on a range of issues, including energy resources in the Mediterranean Sea, and tensions between the NATO allies rose last year when thousands of asylum seekers in Turkey tried to storm the Greek land border.
Migration Minister Notis Mitarachi said the Greek coastguard reported multiple incidents on Friday of the Turkish coastguard and navy accompanying migrant boats “to the border of Europe, in an effort to provoke an escalation” with Greece.
“It is beyond doubt that these migrants departed Turkish shores, and given the fact they were supported by Turkey, were not at risk,” Mitarachi said in a statement. “We call on Turkey to stand down and stop this unwarranted provocation.”
Turkish Deputy Interior Minister Ismail Catakli responded to Mitarachi on Twitter, saying he was distorting the events and telling lies.
Catakli accused Greece of pushing back 231 migrants in seven incidents that took place on Friday, adding that Turkey rescued them.
“That’s a crime against humanity to slander the Turkish Coast Guard saving people you left to death. That’s typical of you,” Catakli wrote.
Turkey’s Coast Guard Command said it rescued the migrants from rubber boats off Izmir, Balikesir and Canakkale provinces.
The Greek coastguard said in one incident a boat carrying migrants tried to enter Greek territorial waters on Friday accompanied by a Turkish coastguard vessel. In another, two Turkish vessels tried to push a dingy with migrants into Greek waters.
In a third incident off the island of Lesbos, a Turkish coastguard vessel entered Greek territorial waters and harassed a Greek patrol boat, it said.
Nearly a million asylum seekers, mostly Syrians, Iraqis and Afghans, crossed into Greece from Turkey on boats in 2015 at the start of Europe’s migration crisis. A year later, the European Union struck a deal with Ankara to stem the flow and numbers fell dramatically.
Mitarachi called on Turkey to “live up to” its commitments under the deal.
The neighbouring NATO allies are at odds over issues such as competing claims over their respective continental shelves, maritime rights, and air space in the Mediterranean, energy, ethnically split Cyprus, and the status of some islands in the Aegean Sea.
Underlining the tensions, Turkey last month protested against a deal between Greece, Israel and Cyprus for an undersea cable linking their electricity grids.
According to the state-run Anadolu news agency, Ankara believes the planned route for the cable runs through Turkey’s continental shelf.
Exploratory talks are meant to lay the ground for formal negotiations, but the two countries have made little progress in more than 60 rounds of meetings since 2002 and cannot even agree on what issues to discuss.