Greek leader claims Turkish border guards 'support' people smugglers

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Greece was the leading landing spot for migrants to Europe in 2015, with 816,752 arriving by sea from Turkey, according to the UNHCR

Greece was the leading landing spot for migrants to Europe in 2015, with 816,752 arriving by sea from Turkey, according to the UNHCR (AFP Photo/Angelos Tzortzinis)

Berlin (AFP) - Greece's President Prokopis Pavlopoulos on Monday accused Turkish border authorities of facilitating people smuggling by turning a blind eye to the trafficking of thousands of migrants to Europe.

"I have a strong fear that Turkish smugglers have the support of the authorities,who act like they have seen nothing," he told German daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung.

"There are even cases where the smugglers are helped. We have evidence. It's a type of slave trade," he said, stressing however that he was not speaking of Turkish leaders.

Human rights and aid organisations have on several occasions raised similar concerns about the alleged complicity of Turkey's border guards.

Pavlopoulos, who was on a visit to Berlin where he met German President Joachim Gauck, also accused Ankara of allowing thousands of migrants to head to Greece even though they were not bona fide refugees fleeing conflict.

"We will respond in an appropriate manner to the refugee question but Turkey must also fulfil its engagements," he said following talks with Gauck.

"These illegal economic migrants, who arrive in Greece because Turkish authorities are not doing their work, should be sent back to Turkey under the accords in force," added Pavlopoulos.

Greece and Turkey, which have a historically difficult relationship, are both on the frontlines of Europe's biggest migrant crisis since World War II.

Greek islands in the Aegean Sea saw more than 800,000 migrants -- many of them refugees fleeing war-torn Syria -- land on their shores from Turkey in 2015, their first EU stop on a journey to new lives in Germany, Sweden and elsewhere.

Turkey itself has taken in 2.2 million refugees from neighbouring war-ravaged Syria.

More than 3,700 migrants died or were reported missing in the Mediterranean last year while making the dangerous crossing to Europe, 800 of them while trying to make it to Greece and the rest heading towards Italy.

Greek, Turkish and German leaders are due to hold a mini-summit in Greece in February, with the Europeans expected to make a push for Ankara to take stronger action in stemming the flow of migrants into Europe.