The UN Refugee Agency on Friday urged Greece to investigate multiple reports of pushbacks by Greek authorities at the country’s sea and land borders, possibly returning migrants and asylum seekers to Turkey.

UNHCR spokesman Babar Baloch said at a twice-weekly UN press briefing that allegations of people being turned back had increased since March.

He said reports indicate that several groups of people may have been summarily returned after reaching Greek territory.

“UNHCR has continuously addressed its concerns with the Greek government and has called for urgent inquiries into a series of alleged incidents reported in media, many of which corroborated by non-governmental organizations and direct testimonies,” said Baloch.

The novel coronavirus pandemic has deepened the plight of people fleeing war, conflict, and persecution.

Baloch said people forced to flee conflict and persecution should not be denied safety and protection.

UNHCR said that around 3,000 asylum seekers had arrived in Greece by land and sea since March, a steep drop from previous months, and compared to past years.

“Yet, the number of reported pushbacks, particularly at sea, has been rising,” said Baloch.

Greece has the legitimate right to control its borders and manage irregular migration, he said, but should respect international human rights and refugee protection standards.

Baloch said, however, that controls and practices must guarantee asylum seekers’ rights and should not be turned away at Greece’s borders.

“The Hellenic Coast Guard has shown exceptional dedication and courage to save countless refugee and migrant lives at sea. However, the present allegations go against Greece’s international obligations and expose people to grave danger,” said the UNHCR spokesman.

The UNHCR has called on states to manage border restrictions by respecting international human rights and refugee protection standards, including quarantines and health checks.

The refugee agency also said it supports additional and adequate spaces for a 14-day quarantine with the need to reduce risks to public health.

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