Greece on Wednesday rejected claims by neighboring Turkey that six migrants including two children drowned at sea after being pushed back by Greek officers this week.
“Greece denies any involvement in the alleged fatal incident,” Migration Minister Notis Mitarachi tweeted on Wednesday.
The Turkish coastguard said Tuesday it had rescued 73 other people trying to reach Europe off the southwestern province of Mugla.
Ankara said the migrants were on four boats.
The migrants’ nationalities were not stated, but they boarded from the Lebanese port of Tripoli on Saturday to try to reach Italy, according to witnesses quoted by the Turkish coastguard.
They finally called on Greek authorities for help after running out of fuel off the Greek island of Rhodes on Monday, the statement said.
“We were told that after being taken from a Greek coastguard boat and robbed of their valuables, (the migrants) were put on board four boats and abandoned adrift near Turkish territorial waters,” a Turkish coastguard statement said.
But Athens has fired back.
“Turkey needs to provide protection to refugees in accordance with international law and not push them forward,” Mitarachi said.
Athens and Ankara are locked in a period of strained relations and have accused each other of violating migrants’ rights.
Greece said Sunday it has blocked more than 150,000 undocumented migrants from crossing its land and sea borders since the start of the year, including 25,000 in August alone.
It is one of the countries of entry into the European Union used by people fleeing Africa and the Middle East in search of safety and better lives.
Thousands of migrants pass through Turkey and then cross the Evros river, or attempt the perilous crossing of the Aegean Sea to reach Greece.
Athens has been repeatedly criticized by witnesses and NGOs for alleged illegal deportations of migrants to Turkey, on land and at sea, but Athens has always denied the charges.
In July, the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) revealed in a report that Europe’s border agency Frontex routinely covered up illegal “pushbacks” of migrants by the Greek coastguard.