Istanbul – Turkey’s coast guard said Tuesday it had intercepted a tanker carrying 276 migrants on their way to Greece, with video published by state media showing dozens crammed into poorly ventilated compartments.
The migrants and eight suspected people smugglers were arrested just before the vessel left a port in Turkey’s western Izmir region on Monday, the coast guard said.
The migrants, including 59 children and 46 women, came from Afghanistan, Syria, Bangladesh and Iran, according to the state news agency Anadolu.
In a video published by Anadolu, dozens of people were seen in cramped, airtight compartments on the boat and some of those arrested were having difficulty breathing, the agency said.
Turkey, which hosts nearly four million Syrian refugees on its soil, is along one of the main routes used by migrants and refugees trying to reach Europe from the Middle East, Asia and Africa.
Ankara and the European Union signed a controversial agreement in 2016 under which the Turkish authorities have committed themselves to combatting the smuggling of migrants in exchange for financial assistance.
But Ankara accuses the EU of not honoring all its commitments, and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced in February the opening of the border with Greece, causing an influx of tens of thousands of refugees.
While the flow of people slowed due to the closure of the borders because of the new coronavirus pandemic, Athens has been worried for several weeks about the arrival of boats carrying migrants from Turkey.
During a visit to Ankara on Monday by EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu once again called on the EU to “keep its promises,” threatening to “not hold back those who want to leave” for Europe.
In particular, he called for visa exemptions for Turkish nationals wishing to travel to Europe and the updating of a customs agreement.