Greece Accuses Aid Groups of Helping Smugglers of Migrants
ATHENS – As Greece comes under fire for its swift return of migrants across the Aegean Sea to Turkey, it clamps down on the activities of some aid groups working with refugees, accusing them of facilitating trafficking and l ‘spying.
Greek authorities have also stepped up accusations against Turkey for failing to prevent migrant smuggling boats from leaving its shores, violating an agreement reached between Turkey and the European Union at the height of the refugee crisis in 2016. .
Police on the Greek island of Lesvos last week said they had drafted criminal proceedings against 10 foreigners, including four members of foreign non-governmental aid organizations, accused of facilitating the illegal entry of migrants and of ‘spying.
The announcement came 10 months after Lesvos police opened a similar case against 33 aid workers, which also included charges of running a criminal organization and violating state secrets laws. .
North Aegean Police spokesman Nikolas Ververis said on Thursday the two cases involved prosecutors and there had been no arrests. He declined to name the aid groups in question while the investigation was ongoing.
Greek authorities, who have also come under fire for prosecuting migrants for human smuggling, have suggested some aid groups are helping smugglers. Lesvos police last week accused those investigated of “providing essential assistance to organized migrant smuggling networks” under the guise of humanitarian aid.
He said he used mobile messaging apps to provide migrants leaving Turkish coasts with details of Greek coast guard operations, positions of military installations and other information.
Although he was not named by Greek authorities, the Norwegian organization Aegean Boat Report, which monitors migrant arrivals, said allegations in the Greek media about his involvement in smuggling rings were “unreliable. substantive and incorrect “.
“The priorities of the Greek government unfortunately seem far removed from those of us who work to promote and protect the safety and human rights of men, women and children seeking safety,” the organization said via Facebook Messenger.
Greece has repeatedly denied accusations it pushes migrants back to Turkey, despite evidence to the contrary compiled by aid and media groups. He claims to have rescued thousands of people at sea while keeping his own borders and those of Europe.
Although arrivals from Turkey have slowed considerably – they are down 96% from last year – Greece and Turkey remain at odds on how to handle migration flows following a dispute over maritime borders last summer which brought them closer to the conflict.
After a contraband boat sank off Crete last week, leaving at least seven migrants missing, Greece’s Migration Ministry spoke of an “unnecessary tragedy” that Turkey could have avoided. Greece’s coastguard entered Turkish waters on Friday to rescue 10 migrants after another boat sank and Turkey failed to respond, Greek Migration Minister Notis Mitarachi told the country’s parliament , noting that three migrants were missing.
Mitarachi, who in December accused Turkey and anonymous aid groups of facilitating smuggling rackets, did not respond to a request to comment on aid groups’ activities.
This is not the first time that aid groups have found themselves in the crosshairs of Greece. In 2015 and 2016, when more than a million migrants flocked to Greece and exceeded its resources, aid groups intervened. In 2018, four volunteers from aid groups, including Syrian refugee Sara Mardini, who is the sister of Olympic swimmer Yusra Mardini, face similar charges. After several months of detention, they were released pending trial, which has yet to take place.
Last year, Greece’s conservative government introduced stricter rules for the operation of dozens of non-governmental organizations, allegedly to enhance transparency and accountability. But the rules have made it difficult for some organizations to function. The Council of Europe has called for these restrictions to be lifted.
Adriana Tidona, European migration researcher for Amnesty International, said the regulations and criminal prosecutions against aid groups were of great concern.
“In the past, we have seen the Greek authorities sue humanitarian actors without reason to provide assistance to asylum seekers and migrants,” she said. “This shouldn’t continue.
She added that the criminal charges worsened an already restrictive climate for aid groups. New laws – both administrative and criminal – are also being enforced in Italy, Spain, France and Cyprus to hamper the activities of the groups, she said.
Iason Apostolopoulos, an aid group worker, was due to receive an award from the Greek government for rescuing migrants, but that honor was taken away from him, apparently due to his criticism of the country’s migration policy. No official reason was given, but a prominent ruling party lawmaker tweeted the aid worker ‘s criticism of government policies.
According to Ms Tidona, the fact that alleged human rights violations, such as push-backs of migrant boats and violence at borders, were not adequately investigated and were “highly politicized” affected the public perception of migrants. people who work for migrant aid groups.
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