A top European human rights official criticised Greece today following a deadly boat accident involving immigrants in the east Aegean Sea, some of whom claimed that the Greek coast guard was turning them away.
Ten people were still missing after a fishing boat crammed with immigrants capsized in the dark on Monday near the tiny Greek island of Farmakonisi while being towed by a coast guard vessel.
The bodies of a woman and an 11-year-old boy were found by Turkish authorities, and accident survivors in Greece identified them from photographs, Greece's coast guard said.
The UN refugee agency said late yesterday it had contacted some of the 16 survivors, who identified the immigrants as coming from Afghanistan and Syria, and claimed the boat was being led back toward nearby Turkey - a claim that was flatly denied.
"Under no circumstances was the coast guard vessel carrying out a towing operation toward the Turkish shore," the coast guard said.
It said the migrant boat was being led eastward to Farmakonisi after sailing past it.
"I am shocked and distressed by the new tragedy which occurred near Farmakonisi in which a number of migrants, including possible asylum seekers, have drowned or have gone missing in what appears to be a case of a failed collective expulsion," Nils Muiznieks, the Council of Europe commissioner for human rights, said in a statement.
"The Greek government has pledged last week to put an end to the illegal practice of collective expulsions and effectively investigate all such cases. I urge them to implement their promise."
Greece is a major transit point for illegal immigration into the European Union, and the country has promised to make the issue a priority during its current six-month presidency of the 28-nation bloc.
In Athens, opposition parties also demanded an investigation into the capsizing. The Socialist party, which is a junior partner in the conservative-led government coalition, also called for an investigation.