Thursday

9th Feb 2023

Refugees in Greece smuggled into Europe

  • Refugees and asylum seekers may be paying smugglers up to €5,000 to leave Greece (Photo: Dimitris Papazimouris)

Refugees and asylum seekers in Greece may be paying up to €5,000 to get smuggled into Italy and elsewhere in Europe.

Children are left behind with the smugglers who use them as “guarantees” or “deposits” to ensure future payment by desperate parents.

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Once the parents obtain asylum, in say Sweden or the Netherlands, the smugglers then escort the children to Athens-based NGOs who are then able to reunite them.

“We have become a tool of the smugglers and part of this game,” Kenneth Brant Hansen from the Greek Council for Refugees in Athens told EUobserver.

“Of course we are not happy about this situation; on the other hand we cannot refuse to reunite families especially when it involves minor children,” he said.

Hansen said the men who bring him the children are professional Afghan smugglers.

Recently, the men brought him two young brothers. The children would only say they had been held in a room with strangers. They would not describe where they had been held or the circumstances that led them to the room.

The parents had made it to Sweden and the NGO reunited them with their two sons months later.

The Greek islands have now become a favourite jumping point into Italy. Smugglers squeeze in between 15 to 20 people on speedboats for an eight to 10 hour journey onto the Italian coast.

From there, they move and spread out into the rest of Europe. Many travel up to Scandinavia or the Netherlands in the hope of securing asylum and seeing their children once again.

Access to asylum in Greece is undermined by a dysfunctional system. Inadequate reception conditions, a lack of information, and a near total deprivation of rights faced by migrants and refugees are driving many to risk a perilous journey once again – this time in Europe.

In Partas, Greece’s third largest city in the west of the country, hundreds of Afghan and Somali refugees are trapped. They are unable to leave and unable to receive any state support and have no right to work.

Their primary complaint, however, are the alleged unprovoked attacks by Greek police officers who beat them for no apparent reason. Many were living in the abandoned Peiraiki Patraiki factory until authorities cut off their water supply and raided the premises on a daily basis. Police deny the accusations.

Police then rounded them up and sent them to detention centres in Athens where many were eventually released. With nowhere to go, the families walked back to Partas but a private security firm now patrols the factory.

In Athens, children as young as 11 and 12 are sleeping alone and in the rough in parks or in abandoned houses. Some wait for days on end in queues outside Athens’ migration office to apply for asylum.

A sense of hopeless is now a common currency among refugees. Frontex and the Greek maintain a focus on the Turkish Greek border to stem the flow of irregular migrants into Greece.

Meanwhile, inside Greece smuggling has since gained traction with networks springing up as the conditions spiral out of control.

“It is obvious that smuggling activity is now also taking place from Greece to the rest of Europe,” said Hansen.

The European Commission in its progress report on the Greek asylum system in March had noted a conspicuous absence of overcrowdinig in detention facilities in Tychero, Ferres, Soufli and Fylakio.

The Commission said changes in the detention policy required authorities to release the refugees but without aid or alternative housing.

Greece has since erected new detention centres with one in the northwest of Athens able to house 1,200 people. Athens was also mandated to launch a new asylum service initially scheduled to begin on the first of January 2012.

According to the Brussels-based European Council of Refugees and Exiles (ECRE), the asylum service will not be operational until the end of the year.

A hiring freeze in the public sector prevents Greece from filling the posts. Greece had recruited 11 persons out of 700 planned as of March.

On Monday (25 June) they announced a call for positions but all are transfers from other civil service sectors. EU-imposed fiscal consolidation rules prevent Greek authorities from hiring new talent.

The Commission acknowledged in its March report that the consolidation rules are one of the primary reasons why the country is unable to implement its asylum action plan.

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