German Chancellor Angela Merkel (R) receives Greek President Prokopis Pavlopoulos in front of the Federal Chancellery in Berlin, Germany, 18 January 2016. Picture: EPA/WOLFGANG KUMM
German Chancellor Angela Merkel (R) receives Greek President Prokopis Pavlopoulos in front of the Federal Chancellery in Berlin on Monday. Picture: EPA/WOLFGANG KUMM

ATHENS — Greece’s President Prokopis Pavlopoulos accused Turkish border authorities on Monday 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; in particular, border 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 he did not mean Turkish leaders.

Human rights and aid organisations have raised similar concerns about the alleged complicity of Turkey’s border guards.

Mr 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 Mr 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."

Greece and Turkey, which have a historically difficult relationship, are on the frontlines of the crisis.

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 last year, their first European Union stop on a journey to new lives in Germany, Sweden and elsewhere.

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

Greek, Turkish and German leaders are due to hold a mini summit in Greece next month.

AFP