IZMIR, Turkey

Turkey rescued a total of 22 asylum seekers who were illegally pushed back by the Greek Coast Guard into Turkish territorial waters in the Aegean, a security source said on Wednesday.

Some 22 asylum seekers were rescued off the district of Foca in Izmir province, when coastal security forces received information that they were stranded on a boat in the area, said the source, who asked not to be named due to restrictions on speaking to the media.

After routine checks, the asylum seekers were taken to the provincial migration authority.

Turkey has been a key transit point for asylum seekers aiming to cross into Europe to start new lives, especially those fleeing war and persecution.

Earlier this year, the country opened the way to irregular migrants seeking to reach Europe, accusing the EU of failing to keep its promises under a 2016 migrant deal.

Turkey has repeatedly condemned Greece’s illegal practice of pushing back asylum seekers, saying that it violates humanitarian values and international law by endangering the lives of vulnerable migrants, including women and children.

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