Human Smuggling Rings Seen Behind Greece Migrants Rush for Border

FILE - Migrants gather during a rally outside a refugee camp in the village of Diavata, west of Thessaloniki, northern Greece, Thursday, April 4, 2019. (AP Photo/Giannis Papanikos)

ATHENS -Greek Migration Minister Dimitris Vitsas said international human smuggling rackets drove migrants to rush to Diavata, near Thessaloniki, in hopes of crossing the border into North Macedonia and on to other European Union countries.

He told News 247 radio station the traffickers were behind the upheaval after it was also said some 500 migrants frustrated at being penned up in detention centers and camps up to two years and more were victimized by false social media reports telling them the border would open.

There were three days of sometimes violent protests and clashes with riot police along the border after North Macedonia had previously erected fences to keep out migrants and refugees and other European Union countries also closed their borders to them, leaving some 70,000 abandoned in Greece, including more than 15,000 on islands near Turkey which has let human smugglers operate during a suspended swap deal.

“They are international rackets, international criminal rackets,” said Vitsas. In 2018, Greek authorities arrested 350 traffickers of many different nationalities, he said, adding that the migrants were “victims of disinformation,” giving them hope the borders would open.

He said authorities were “Searching for clues on the Internet we’ll find a service, possibly on another continent … 350 traffickers were arrested (in Greece) in 2018… from all over the world.”

Many of the migrants  received SMS messages from a sender claiming to represent a NGO and saying the Greek border will be opened for transit without travel documents and visas.

The reports also led to hundreds of people flocking to Athens’ central train station at Larissa and blocking trains and buying tickets to get to Diavata.

It had been said as well that those who went to the border did so after a false post by a pro-refugee group on Facebook they would be allowed to cross at the spot.