UN agency concerned at alleged Greek pushbacks of Turks

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The United Nations refugee agency expressed deep concern Thursday at reports that Turks seeking asylum in Greece have been forcibly returned to their country by Greek authorities.

The UNHCR said it is "of vital importance" that Greek authorities comprehensively investigate the allegations made by the Turks, as well as older complaints involving refugees of other nationalities.

There has been a steady flow of Turks — including military personnel — requesting asylum in Greece since last year's failed coup in neighboring Turkey and subsequent government crackdown.

Philippe Leclerc, the agency's representative in Greece, said that if the allegations of illegal returns are confirmed the case is "extremely worrying."

"The right to seek and enjoy asylum is a fundamental human right," he added.

Greece's left-led government denies the allegations about the Turks, as did previous administrations when presented with several complaints that Greek authorities illegally sent back refugees to Turkey during Europe's immigration crisis.

UNHCR officials said they had received no direct complaints themselves regarding the Turks, but the Hellenic League for Human Rights said Tuesday it received a complaint that Greek police in the northeastern Evros border region last week delivered a group of Turkish asylum-seekers to masked gunmen, who returned them to Turkey.

The watchdog said the asylum-seekers were a couple with four children, and two more men, and had stated that they wanted to apply for international protection because of persecution in Turkey.

It said it received complaints over a similar alleged incident in May, and that one of the people involved is now in a Turkish prison and no communication with him is possible.

"We are in the process of gathering evidence, such as statements from the (asylum-seekers) involved, so that we can seek recourse with justice and take legal action with Greek authorities," the League's legal adviser, Antonis Spathis, told The Associated Press Thursday.

Well over 200 Turks, including families with young children, have fled to Greece seeking asylum since the failed July 2016 coup, which was followed by a crackdown on tens of thousands of people accused of anti-government activity.

The fugitives included eight servicemen whom Turkey accuses of participating in the coup, and the Greek high court's rejection of a Turkish request for their extradition — on grounds that they would not get a fair trial in Turkey and their lives might be in danger there — has angered Ankara.