Greece sues NGOs for smuggling illegal immigrants

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Greece has accused neighboring Turkey and several European non-profit organizations of deliberately being involved in the illegal smuggling of immigrants from Somalia to the Greek islands. According to Greece, some of them organize migrant journeys while disguising themselves as travel agencies.
The Greek authorities became suspicious after the number of East African migrants entering the country suddenly began to increase rapidly. When numerous immigrants arrived on the Aegean island of Lesbos in early November, 142 of the 214 people came from Somalia.
According to the Athenian newspaper Kathimerini, non-profit representatives reject this accusation, but the Greek government insists that the information is well-founded.
“We have credible information that smugglers in Turkey are deliberately collecting migrants from Somalia and sending them to the EU via Greece,” said Notis Mitarakis, the Greek minister of immigration. He is a member of the new government in Athens, which, under the leadership of Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, has taken a sharper line on immigration since last year.
Recently, when more than three dozen Somalis drowned while sailing from Turkey, one of the rescued migrants told how his entire journey took place under the direction of non-profits.
NGOs are basically turning into travel agencies for migrants
From what the Greek government describes, the efforts of the NGOs are like an organized trip through a travel agency. The details, as described by the British Times, show that they help arrange the details, leaving migrants without too much to worry about on their journey.
Migrants must first obtain a Turkish visa, which is not complicated since Ankara has launched a “Go to Turkey and study” campaign in Somalia. According to Greek Minister Notis Mitarakis, Turkish representatives and representatives of humanitarian organizations help immigrants obtain a “student visa” on the spot in Mogadishu.
The visa is not necessarily even expensive, with one rescued immigrant said he had paid only €100 for a trip to Turkey. The journey itself is, of course, many times more expensive. However, according to the Greek authorities, the rest of the amount would be matched by humanitarian organizations. In addition, according to local reporters, the bank accounts to which immigrants pay for arranging a trip are the same as those of illegal smuggling networks.
Among the seven organizations that Greece suspects of illegal activity, Notis Mitarakis specifically mentioned two: the Al-Khair Foundation in London and the Aegean Boat Report Foundation in Norway. According to him, by smuggling people, they are violating Greek law.
Immigrants are transported to key places on the Mediterranean coast after arriving in Turkey, from where they travel to the Greek islands with the assistance of non-profit organizations, Mitarakis described. Then they head to Athens, Berlin, or even as far as Calais.
The head of the Norwegian foundation, Tommy Olsen, described the allegations as a targeted attack on his organization and denied that it would cooperate in any way with illegal human smugglers.
However, it is not the first time Greece has accused NGOs of participating in migrant smuggling either, with dozens of NGO workers arrested by Greece and charged with helping smuggle migrants in recent months.
NGO threat is growing
However, the Greek government considers NGOs to be a big problem and wants to reduce similar risks in the future. For example, it will hire private contractors for auxiliary work in immigration camps. According to Mitarakis, they should not be relegated to the sidelines just because “there is some NGO Save the World that will ask for a million euros for cleaning the camp“.
According to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, around 15,000 immigrants arrived in Greece this year, two-thirds of whom reached the Greek Aegean islands, where they stay in desperately crowded camps on the islands of Lesbos, Chios, and Samos.
Title image: Migrants disembark from a vessel after an operation by the Greek Coast guard at the port of Katakolo, western Greece, Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020. Greece’s Migration and Asylum ministry says the country’s coast guard has towed a boat carrying 65 asylum seekers to a port on the western coast of Greece after it was found to be in distress in the Ionian Sea. The ministry said Thursday, Nov. 5, 2020 that 35 of those on board were from Turkey, 15 from Afghanistan and many of the others from Iraq. (Giannis Spyrounis/ via AP)

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