Greece probes pushback video, says migrant policy 'tough but fair'

After no outright victory, Greek PM to get mandate for coalition

ATHENS (Reuters) - Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said Greek authorities were investigating a New York Times video showing asylum seekers being forcibly ejected from Greece but reiterated denials that his government knowingly carries out so-called pushbacks.

He defended Greece's border policies as "tough but fair."

A video published by the New York Times on Friday shows a group of people, including children, being removed from a van from what the newspaper said was the island of Lesbos, taken on an inflatable boat to a coast guard vessel, and then abandoned on a raft at sea.

The video, which Reuters has not verified, prompted European Union Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson to ask Greece to "fully and independently" investigate the incident.

"I take this incident very seriously. It is already being investigated by my government," Mitsotakis said in an interview with CNN's Christiane Amanpour aired late on Tuesday.

Asked if Greece was wittingly engaging in pushbacks, Mitsotakis said: "Absolutely not."

He described the video as "a completely unacceptable practice."

Greece was on the frontline of Europe's migration crisis in 2015-16, when nearly 1 million people, mostly Syrians, crossed to its islands from Turkey.

It has been repeatedly accused by rights groups and the United Nations of forcefully returning asylum-seekers on its sea and land borders, a practice it denies.

Since coming to power in 2019, Mitsotakis has taken a harder stance on migration, building walled camps and boosting border patrols, defying criticism by aid groups.

Mitsotakis told CNN his policy was "tough but fair."

Mitsotakis, whose New Democracy party won a resounding victory in an inconclusive election on Sunday with 40% of the vote, has the public's backing, with opinion polls showing most Greeks either agree with the migration policy or say it could be stricter.

On islands close to Turkey which bore the brunt of the refugee crisis, and in the border region of Evros, New Democracy came first in Sunday's vote.

Greece is heading to a second election on June 25 which New Democracy is expected to win.

(Reporting by Karolina Tagaris, Editing by William Maclean)