ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Greek authorities on the eastern Aegean island of Lesbos say they are drawing up a criminal case, including on charges of espionage, against 10 people, all foreign nationals, for allegedly helping migrants enter the country illegally.
Police in Lesbos said on Monday the investigation had been ongoing for several months and was being carried out in cooperation with Greece’s intelligence service and anti-terrorism task force. No charges have been brought and no suspects have been publicly identified.
Greece has been repeatedly accused by rights groups and migrants of carrying out summary deportations of newly arrived migrants without allowing them to apply for asylum — an illegal practice known as pushbacks. The government strenuously denies the accusations, labeling them as “fake news,” but has stressed it is robustly patrolling its land and sea borders with Turkey, which are also the external borders of the European Union.
The country has been one of the preferred entry points into the EU of people fleeing conflict and poverty in the Middle East, Africa and Asia for years. Its frequently tense relations with neighboring Turkey have led to what Athens has said is the weaponization of migrants by Ankara, which it accuses of encouraging people to cross into Greece as a means of pressuring both Greece and the EU.
There has been mounting evidence suggesting Greek authorities do carry out pushbacks, including photos of migrants picked up by the Turkish coast guard after the same people had appeared in photos shared with rights groups showing them with identifiable landmarks on Greek islands.
Police said the case involves four members of undisclosed non-governmental organizations and another six people. All are under investigation for espionage, assisting the illegal entry of foreign nationals, impeding Greek authorities' investigations and violating migration laws.
The police described the activities as “organized” and said they date to early June 2020, “in the form of providing essential assistance to organized networks of illegal smuggling of migrants” under the guise of performing humanitarian work. The case involves migrant arrivals on the islands of Chios, Lesbos and Samos.
As evidence of suspicious activity, police listed communication through mobile messaging applications with migrants leaving the Turkish shores.
According to the police announcement, those under investigation would advise recent arrivals to head either to areas of difficult terrain to hide, or to health care facilities, thereby “systematically complicating the work of the responsible Greek authorities.”
It said the investigation so far indicated the people under investigation had assisted in “the illegal entry of a significant number of third country nationals” to Greek islands. Authorities are continuing the investigation into potential further contacts and activities, police said.
By ELENA BECATOROS Associated Press