BALIKESIR/CANAKKALE, Turkey 

The Turkish Coast Guard rescued at least 41 asylum seekers pushed into Turkish territorial waters by Greece in two separate incidents Thursday, according to security sources.

A Coast Guard team was dispatched to an area off Gunes Island in western Balikesir province after learning of a group of asylum seekers stranded on a lifeboat, said a source, who asked not to be named due to restrictions on speaking to the media.

Thirteen asylum seekers wanted to reach Lesbos Island in Greece, said the source. They were referred to the Coast Guard Command on Cunda Island in Turkey.

And 28 asylum seekers were held in western Izmir province after asking the coast guard to be rescued in Dikili district.

They were later transferred to the provincial migration office.

“We spent three hours on the boat and reached Greece. We saw a boat. It was the Greek boat and we asked them for help,” according to a woman on the boat. “They came and started following us. Then they took our engine and told us to go back. They followed us until the Turkish Coast Guard rescued us.”

Cameras recorded the moment when the rubber boat was pushed into Turkish territorial waters by Greece.

It showed two Greek zodiac boats approaching the boat in Greek territorial waters and officials pushing asylum seekers into Turkish waters instead of performing a rescue operation.

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

Turkey opened its gates to irregular migrants in 2020 after accusing the EU of failing to keep its promises under a 2016 migrant deal.

Turkey hosts nearly 4 million Syrians, more than any other country in the world.

*Writing by Gozde Bayar

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