Greek agents posed as migrants to pass on evidence against NGO workers

35 aid workers charged with people smuggling and espionage

Migrants from Afghanistan arrive on a dinghy on a beach near the village of Skala Sikamias, after crossing part of the Aegean Sea from Turkey to the island of Lesbos, Greece, March 2, 2020. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis
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Two agents working for Greek intelligence posed as migrants as part of a four-month operation against non-governmental organisation (NGO) workers in the eastern Mediterranean.

The individuals, described in the Greek press as “foreigners”, passed on evidence against 35 workers from four NGOs who have been charged with espionage and people smuggling after aiding migrants arriving to Greece from Turkey.

The pair travelled to Izmir in Turkey, a main hub on migrant routes to Europe, where they posed as would-be immigrants to Greece, the Greek newspaper Kathimerini reported.

Notis Mitarakis, Greek minister of information and asylum, said on Greek television the NGO workers in Greece and Turkey had co-operated with migrants to facilitate their illegal entry into Greece. They were monitoring radio frequencies and Greek ports to the extent that their activities had reached the threshold of espionage, Mr Mitarakis added.

Refugees and migrants carrying their belongings flee a fire burning at the Moria camp on Lesbos island, Greece, Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2020. Moria refugee camp was never far from crisis. Created in the wake of a massive influx of migrants five years ago, Greece's largest refugee facility quickly exceeded capacity, spilling into surrounding olive groves on the island of Lesbos. The camp's life ended as it began, in drama: Successive fires that started before dawn on Sept. 9 devastating the site and making 12,000 inhabitants homeless during a COVD-19 lockdown. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)

At the end of last month, authorities in Greece charged the 35 aid workers with espionage, accusing them of smuggling migrants and refugees from Turkey on to the Greek island of Lesbos.

Police said they opened felony cases against the group’s members, 33 of whom work for non-governmental organisations NGOs, as well as two “third-country nationals”.

Police launched the probe into the migrant rescue groups months ago, with both intelligence services and counter-terrorism teams involved in the investigation.

The government of Greek Prime Minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, has grown increasingly sceptical of humanitarian groups helping migrants, most of whom arrive in the country from Turkey.

Greece, with Italy and Malta, is the principal arrival point for most refugees and migrants arriving in Europe by sea.

The NGOs operating migrant rescues and distributing aid say their work is essential and have accused European governments of obstructing their efforts.

The aid workers are also accused of imparting information about the migrant camp of Moria on Lesbos, police said.

Moria, which international NGOs had long decried as overcrowded, was burnt down in September, leaving 12,000 migrants and refugees homeless.

Greek authorities believe the fire was started deliberately.