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Greece Accuses Assist Teams of Serving to Smugglers of Migrants

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ATHENS — As Greece faces criticism for its fast return of migrants throughout the Aegean Sea to Turkey, it’s cracking down on the actions of some assist teams working with refugees, accusing them of facilitating trafficking rackets and spying.

The Greek authorities have additionally stepped up accusations towards Turkey for failing to cease boats smuggling migrants from leaving its shores, violating a deal struck between Turkey and the European Union on the peak of the refugee disaster in 2016.

Final week, police on the Greek island of Lesbos mentioned they’d drafted a prison case towards 10 foreigners, together with 4 members of overseas nongovernmental assist organizations, who face costs of facilitating the unlawful entry of migrants and espionage.

The announcement got here 10 months after police on Lesbos drew up an identical case towards 33 staff of assist teams that additionally included costs of working a prison group and violating legal guidelines overlaying state secrets and techniques.

A spokesperson for the northern Aegean police, Nikolas Ververis, mentioned on Thursday that each circumstances have been with prosecutors and that there had not been any arrests. He declined to call the help teams in query because the investigation was ongoing.

Greek authorities, who’ve additionally confronted criticism for prosecuting migrants on costs of individuals smuggling, have prompt that sure assist teams are serving to smugglers. The Lesbos police final week accused these being investigated of “offering important help to organized networks for the unlawful smuggling of migrants” below the guise of humanitarian assist.

It mentioned they used cellular messaging apps to offer migrants leaving Turkish shores with particulars about Greek Coast Guard operations, the positions of navy amenities and different data.

Greece’s migration minister, Notis Mitarachi, who in December accused Turkey and sure assist teams of facilitating smuggling rackets, didn’t reply to a request for remark. In his feedback in December, the minister mentioned that migrants have been being instructed by smugglers to contact Aegean Boat Report, a Norwegian group that displays migrant arrivals, and one other assist group.

Aegean Boat Report mentioned allegations of its involvement with smuggling rings have been “baseless and incorrect.”

“The Greek authorities’s priorities, sadly, appear far faraway from these of us who work to advertise and safeguard the safety and human rights of males, ladies and kids searching for security,” the group mentioned by way of Fb Messenger.

Greece has repeatedly denied accusations that it’s pushing migrants again to Turkey, regardless of proof on the contrary compiled by assist and media teams. It says it rescues 1000’s of individuals at sea whereas guarding its personal borders and people of Europe.

Though arrivals from Turkey have slowed significantly — they’re down 96 p.c since final 12 months — Greece and Turkey stay at loggerheads over how you can cope with migration flows following a dispute over maritime boundaries final summer season that introduced them near battle.

After a smuggling boat sank off Crete final week, leaving a minimum of seven migrants lacking, Greece’s migration ministry referred to a “pointless tragedy” that Turkey may have averted. On Friday, the Greek Coast Guard entered Turkish waters to save lots of 10 migrants after one other boat sank and Turkey did not react, Mr. Mitarachi, the migration minister, informed the nation’s Parliament, noting that three migrants have been lacking.

It’s not the primary time that assist teams have discovered themselves in Greece’s cross hairs. In 2015 and 2016, when greater than one million migrants streamed into Greece and overwhelmed its sources, assist teams stepped in. In 2018, 4 assist group volunteers, together with the Syrian refugee Sara Mardini, who’s the sister of the Olympic swimmer Yusra Mardini, confronted comparable costs. After a number of months in detention, they have been launched pending their trial, which has but to happen.

Final 12 months, Greece’s conservative authorities launched harder guidelines for the operation of dozens of nongovernmental organizations, ostensibly to spice up transparency and accountability. However the guidelines made it tough for some organizations to function. The Council of Europe has referred to as for these restrictions to be revoked.

Adriana Tidona, a European migration researcher for Amnesty Worldwide, mentioned the rules and the prison case towards the help teams have been of nice concern.

“Previously, we’ve seen Greek authorities senselessly pursuing humanitarian actors for offering help to asylum seekers and migrants,” she mentioned. “That shouldn’t proceed.”

She added that the prison costs worsen a local weather that’s already restrictive for assist teams. New legal guidelines — each administrative and prison — are additionally being utilized in Italy, Spain, France and Cyprus to impede the actions of the teams, she mentioned.

Iason Apostolopoulos, an assist group worker, had been scheduled to obtain an award from the Greek authorities for rescuing migrants, however that honor was withdrawn, apparently as a result of his criticism of the nation’s migrant coverage. No official cause was given, however a distinguished lawmaker from the ruling social gathering referred on Twitter to the help employee’s criticism of presidency insurance policies.

In response to Ms. Tidona, the truth that alleged human rights abuses, like pushbacks of migrant boats and violence on the borders, weren’t correctly investigated and “closely politicized” was affecting the general public notion of people that work for assist teams coping with migrants.

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