22nd Jun 2021

Greek minister says people-smugglers behind 'fake news'

  • Greek migration minister Notis Mitarachi (l) with EU commissioner Ylva Johansson (Photo: European Union, 2021)

Greek migration minister Notis Mitarachi has suggested people smugglers are feeding the media "fake news" on illegal pushbacks - because they are losing cash flow.

Mitarachi drew the link on Monday (29 March), saying smugglers are losing millions of euros due to Greek government efforts.

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"That could have played a role in the kind of fake news that we hear about the Greek coast guard," Mitarachi told reporters.

The Hellenic Coast Guard has been accused of illegal push-backs in the Aegean Sea. The accusations stem from investigative reports by Bellingcat, Der Spiegel and other media last year.

The reports helped launch a European Parliament probe, as well as an internal probe by the EU's border agency, Frontex.

Mitarachi's comments were made after the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) in Greece said it had documented hundreds of illegal pushbacks.

Asked if the UNHCR reports was also part of the "fake news", Mitarachi deflected. "We do take them seriously," he said.

But he noted investigations by the Greek judiciary have not led to any case of violations of European and international law.

Reuters news agency on Monday said three migrants had been found dead off the Turkish coast, victims of alleged pushbacks from Greece.

Mitarachi had made similar smuggler accusations last December, when he accused NGOs of working with people smugglers.

EU home affairs commissioner, Ylva Johansson, also weighed in.

Speaking alongside Mitarachi, she said the cases cited by the UNHCR need to be probed closer. "I think the Greek authorities can do more when it comes to investigating these alleged pushbacks," she said.

Johansson is in Greece for a tour of the islands - where five new EU-funded centres for migrants and asylum seekers will be built.

Mitarachi said the camps on the islands of Samos, Kos and Leros will be ready in three months.

They are entirely financed by the European Commission.

But questions remain over Lesbos, where the Moria camp had burned down last September.

A temporary facility has been erected, amid plans to build a new permanent structure before the end of the year.

It too is funded by the European Union. The aim is to get is up and running before winter.

But an initial September deadline has been scrapped as delays begin to mount.

The new camp will be entirely fenced in with a central gate. Additional fencing will be erected inside to separate vulnerable groups from others.

A detention centre for those set to be returned to their home countries will also be erected. People will also be given a special card to enter and exit the camp, during set hours of the day.

Those that enter will be checked by security to make sure no knives or alcohol is brought in.

The site of the new camp on Lesbos will be far away from locals.

Mitarachi declined to have a fixed date for when the camp will open. He said a tender will be published next month and that construction could be begin in early summer.

"The exact [date] of completion cannot be clearly foreseen but clearly we will not allow for a difficult winter ahead," he said.

The European Commission is paying €276m for the five new camps on the islands.

Of that, €155m will go to the camps in Lesbos and Chios.

NGO rebuts Athens' charge of aiding people smugglers

Greek migration minister Notis Mitarachi presented video testimonies of migrants citing Norwegian NGO Aegean Boat Report as useful in their efforts to get to Greece. Mitarachi said such NGOs contribute to "illegal migratory flows". Aegean Boat Report disputes the account.


Lack of legal clarity on EU 'pushbacks' of migrants at sea

Frontex is invoking EU interception rules, plus a European Court of Human Rights case against Spain, as precedents to allow authorities to turn back migrants in boats in the Aegean Sea. But legal analysis by the EU Commission says otherwise.

Romania denies forcing migrant-boat back to Turkish waters

Romania's ministry of internal affairs wrote to Frontex claiming it did not engage in any illegal pushbacks of people on rubber boats into Turkish territorial waters. The country says it followed EU engagement rules and Greek orders.

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The EU has trained and equipped the Libyan Coast Guard. Those intercepted are then returned. Now Turkey has taken the lead, raising the stakes of possible leverage over the European Union as Ankara takes control of the route.

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EU home affairs commissioner Ylva Johansson has taken a firm stand against outsourcing asylum to other parts of the world. Her comments follow a recent Danish law that aims to stop asylum seekers from filing claims in Denmark.

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