Push backs in the Aegean Sea have diverted vessels carrying irregular migrants to Italy, Turkey's interior minister said on Friday, Anadolu News Agency reports.
Noting recent reports of an increase in irregular migrant arrivals in Italy from Turkey, Suleyman Soylu told Anadolu Agency that the ships carrying these migrants were not coming from Turkey.
Soylu's remarks came ahead of his departure from Italy, where he received an award on Thursday from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Mediterranean for an app developed by the Turkish government to help women deal with domestic violence.
"There are push backs in the Aegean Sea. I think that when there are push backs, ships going to the Aegean Sea from other places are turning their route towards Italy, and Frontex (The European Border and Coast Guard Agency) is merely watching these push backs and unlawfulness," he said.
Turkey and human rights groups have repeatedly condemned Greece's illegal practice of pushing back asylum seekers, saying it violates humanitarian values and international law by endangering the lives of vulnerable migrants, including women and children.
Soylu underlined that Ankara prevented 8,000 illegal migrants from going to Italy, adding that Italy and Turkey had decided to establish a new mechanism on the matter.
"I believe that if we manage the process together from now on, we will achieve a more productive result," he said.
Soylu said that one of Italy's most important complaints was that around 34,000 illegal immigrants had arrived in the country last year and that this rose to 60,000 this year.
"Turkey continues its fight on illegal migrants both on land and sea, both in the Aegean and Mediterranean, with all its determination."
Turkey already hosts over 4 million refugees, more than any country in the world, and has enhanced security measures on its borders to humanely prevent a fresh influx of migrants.
Soylu also said he had "a very productive meeting" with his Italian counterpart, Luciana Lamorgese, during their meetings, during which the two officials discussed terrorism, narcotics operations, training cooperation, Afghanistan, Syria, and Libya, besides irregular migration.