Greek police accuse aid workers of supporting migrant smugglers

Greece accuses workers from foreign non-governmental aid organisations of helping migrants enter from Turkey.

Refugees and migrants from the destroyed Moria camp wait to board buses on the island of Lesbos, Greece [Elias Marcou/Reuters]

Greek police have accused 35 people, among them two foreign nationals, from several foreign non-governmental aid organisations of illegally helping refugees and migrants to enter from Turkey.

Those accused allegedly provided information to people-smugglers, in at least 32 instances, on the Greek coastguard’s position and possible locations to disembark on the Aegean island of Lesbos.

The group faces criminal charges related to organised crime and espionage, police said on Monday.

It was not clear from the statement whether any arrests were made.

Two foreign nationals – identified by national broadcaster ERT as an Afghan and an Iranian – were also part of the alleged operation, the police said.

No information was given on the aid groups in question, the identities of the suspects, or whether any were already in custody.

A Greek police source said the “preliminary” investigation was still under way.

According to the police, the investigation has gone on for several months and involves the national intelligence agency and counterterrorism unit.

The accused have allegedly been helping smugglers in Turkey take people to Lesbos since at least early June.

They reportedly gathered and shared confidential information on closed social-network groups and apps.

Police did not name the organisations in question but said they were foreign, with members from countries including Germany, Austria, Norway, Switzerland and Bulgaria.

The allegations come as Greece faces accusations that it has been pushing refugees back to sea.

Chronic overcrowding on Lesbos

Meanwhile, Greek authorities on Monday began transferring hundreds of refugees from Lesbos to reduce chronic overcrowding that has caused hardship and fanned tensions with locals.

More than 700 people were to sail to the Greek mainland on board a ferry later Monday, organisers said, three weeks after a sprawling camp on the island burned down.

Another group will leave on Thursday, state agency ANA said.

Some 2,500 refugees and asylum seekers are to be relocated overall, following coronavirus tests, according to the migration ministry.

More than 12,000 asylum seekers were left homeless on September 8 after a fire ravaged the Lesbos camp of Moria, Europe’s largest.

Six Afghan youths are on trial for arson in connection to the fire. They deny the charges.

The Moria camp was notorious for overcrowding, poor sanitation and ethnic gang violence.

The fire broke out shortly after more than 30 people there tested positive for the novel coronavirus.

Meanwhile, Germany has offered to take 1,500 asylum seekers from Greece, including former Moria residents.

For its part, France has offered to take in 500 minors from the camp.

Authorities and local residents on Lesbos had long campaigned for the immediate removal of most of the asylum seekers.

After the camp burned down, a makeshift tent facility was hurriedly erected to house some 9,500 people.

But the temporary camp, on a hill overlooking the sea, is ill-equipped to handle winter conditions.

The government is now in talks to build a smaller permanent camp on the island.

Source: News Agencies