ATHENS — Arrivals of Somali asylum seekers have increased sharply on the Greek islands in recent weeks, Migration and Asylum Minister Notis Mitarachi said in a press conference for foreign correspondents on Tuesday, while he accused Turkey and certain non-governmental groups of facilitating their movements.
Of a total 214 asylum seekers arriving on the island of Lesvos since November 1, Mitarachi said, 142 were from Somalia, a country nowhere near Greece. He cited witness accounts and verified information that "NGOs are paying the transport and visa issue costs to get people from Somalia's capital Mogadishu to Turkey, putting them on flights to Istanbul. From there, they are taken to the Turkish coast where migrant traffickers, again with the support of NGOs, help them to illegally enter the EU."
Mitarachi claimed that between 2,000-2,500 migrants from Africa were currently gathered on Turkey's western shores.
The minister said that Somalis were encouraged to go to Turkey to study and were easily able to get student or health visas, while pointing to the existence of a Turkish "liaison office" in Mogadishu that offered to complete the process for 1,300-1,500 euros per person.
Young Somalis have also testified that an NGO helped them to fly to Turkey at a cost of just 100 euros, when the real cost of the ticket is approximately 1,000 euros, he added.
Mitarachi then referred to ways in which the presence of NGOs made islands such as Lesvos "attractive" to asylum seekers, who were often given instructions to take photographs while making the crossing and send them to specific NGOs, which would then alert international organisations and assist them upon their arrival.
"We send a strong and clear message that this cannot and will not be allowed to happen. It is clear that these people are not in any danger in Turkey and, consequently, they should be given asylum there, if it's needed," he concluded, expressing concern that Turkey was facilitating their arrival by readily handing out visas.
The ministry was completing necessary changes to the asylum process, so as to reject any request by persons "coming from a safe environment," he added.