The head of a local NGO on Wednesday referred to a “mistaken belief” by his group that an islet in the middle of the Evros (Maritsa) River – separating Greece from Turkey in the northeast Thrace province – was territory of the former.

The specific brush-covered islet is where a group of 38 asylum seekers, reportedly Syrians and Palestinians, claimed to have been stranded. The latter had issued rescue pleas on-and-off for several days early last month, which were prominently picked up by several media outlets, extensively reproduced on social media and used as pressure against the Greek government by pro-migration/refugee NGOs to evacuate the group.

At one point, some of the would-be asylum seekers claimed a five-year-old girl had died from a scorpion bite and other hardships. However, when later pressed about the alleged death, a couple identified as the parents said they could not remember where her body was buried on the islet, nor could they produce any proof they had five and not four children, as listed on various documents, including a list of individuals, comprising the group, used to get ECHR ruling.

Epaminondas Farmakis, who heads up the NGO “HumanRights360”, added that “…our organization does not wish, under any circumstance, to create a border issue between Greece and Turkey, nor does it question the borders between the two countries.”

Regarding the case of the 38 third country nationals and where they actually were located on the riverine border, Farmakis merely mentioned that “…public information available to us, and taking into account that the area presents a particularly complex territorial status quo as, depending on the flow of the river, tracts of land emerge from time to time, we formed the mistaken belief that the above persons were on Greek territory.”

In reference to a stringer/reporter for a German magazine, who entered the shelter where the 38 were taken under the guise of an interpreter, before proceeding to interview the couple, he said “the entry of a journalist into the reception and identification centre … was conducted solely upon his own initiative, without the prior knowledge, involvement or having first informed our organization’s administration. Besides, the aforementioned person has never been an employee or partner of our organization, as was inaccurately listed in a transfer document of his entry request.”

In a later reaction, Greece’s migration and asylum ministry pointed directly at the retraction to underline that false claims and assertions, namely, that the islet is Greek territory, “irreparably exposes all those that sought to exploit the incident … for their own benefit, spreading fallacies in the international and domestic press.”
The ministry’s press office also took a jab at the main opposition SYRIZA party, as some of its deputies raised the issue at the European Parliament, in a bid to “defame the country …we have been waiting several days for usually talkative SYRIZA to make a statement.”

“Once again there’s confirmation that the government’s standing position that (migrant) trafficking rings and certain ‘do-gooders’, are seeking to skirt EU borders by using fake news. Greece protects its borders and at the same time saves thousands of people by implementing a strict but fair migration policy,” the statement added.