Wednesday

27th Jan 2021

NGO rebuts Athens' charge of aiding people smugglers

  • Aegean Boat Report, a Norwegian NGO, disputes the accusations made by the Greek government (Photo: Aegean Boat Report)

A Norwegian NGO, accused on Tuesday (8 December) by the Greek government of helping migrant smugglers, has angrily denied the allegations.

The NGO was featured in a presentation to reporters by Greek migration minister Notis Mitarachi.

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"We are astonished at this unprovoked and deliberately misleading attack on our organisation," said Tommy Olsen of the Aegean Boat Report, in an email later the same day.

Mitarachi presented video testimonies by African migrants where they say they were instructed by people smugglers to use Aegean Boat Report, once they landed on Greek shores, to contact the UN refugee agency.

Mitarachi claimed the service was thus providing tangible support for those trying to cross into Europe.

"A small number [NGOs] are contributing to the illegal migratory flows and therefore the problem and the human costs," he said.

In one video, a young, unnamed African male, says they were told by smugglers to contact Aegean Boat Report when landing on the Greek shores.

"As soon as you reach Greece you should photograph each other and send the photos to the Facebook page or the WhatsApp of the Aegean Boat Report NGO," he says in the video testimony.

Mitarachi said he will be sharing the testimonies with the European Commission.

But Olsen disputed the account, noting that Aegean Boat Report strongly opposes people smuggling between Turkey and Greece.

"We must request the minister cease his baseless allegations," he said.

"If he wishes to allege we have acted illegally or improperly he must produce something more than a small number of refugees saying that smugglers in Turkey know the name 'Aegean Boat Report' and tell them if they attempt to contact us they will be given dry clothing and a bottle of water," said Olsen.

Olsen described Aegean Boat Report as a public service which locates men, women and children who arrive on the Greek islands. He in turn accused the Greek government itself of failing to provide them with even basic services.

"We do not deliver aid to those people, though the minister should be pleased that some organisations do this, because without their work, the failures of his own ministry would have caused hundreds more deaths than have taken place so far," he said.

Aegean Boat Report is not the only NGO on the Greek government's radar, however.

Last month, German magazine Der Spiegel reported over 30 organisations and aid workers were being investigated by the Greek police.

Among those included are Mare Liberum, Sea Watch, FFM e.V., Josoor and Alarm Phone/Watch the Med. Many are German, with some reportedly having had their phones wiretapped.

The Greek allegations against them range from helping smugglers, to stealing state secrets - which could result in lengthy prison sentences if charged and convicted.

However, the episode appears to be part of a broader government effort to control NGOs working on migration in Greece.

A recent Greek ministerial decision, for instance, includes a confidentiality clause preventing aid workers, including volunteers, from speaking about their work at Greek migrant camps to the wider public.

"I think this formulation definitely expands the scope far beyond what we would consider data that should be protected," said Minos Mouzourakis, a legal officer at Refugee Support Aegean.

That decision, drafted by ministerial authorities, entered into force on 30 November without having to go through the Greek parliament.

Mouzourakis says the decision comes amid a series of rules aimed at exerting extensive control over NGOs.

Asked to comment, Mitarachi denied the existence of any confidentiality clauses.

"We do not have any confidentiality clauses about the NGOs. We very much welcome transparency," he told this website.

"The only thing we are asking NGOs is that they register with us and also when they have people in the field," he said.

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