UK-Greece: Bilateral cooperation against migrant smuggling


Information released by the Home Office and Crown Prosecution Service in response to freedom of information requests gives some indication of the scale and scope of cooperation under the UK-Greece Joint Action Plan on migration and 'Project Invigor', "the UK’s organised immigration crime taskforce set up to target the criminal networks behind people smuggling impacting on the UK."

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In April 2020, the UK and Greece signed a 'Joint Action Plan on migration' (pdf) which committed the two countries to:

"...deepen cooperation on migration; to work together towards building capacity in the region and reducing the flow of migrants whilst ensuring protection and support is made available to the most vulnerable, and the humanitarian situation in the Greek islands is improved."

The UK's primary interest is in preventing onward movements from Greece to the UK. The agreement with Greece appears to be one of few that have been signed with EU countries post-Brexit, after the UK failed to get migration and asylum included in the Trade and Cooperation Agreement signed with the EU.

Earlier this year, we asked the Home Office and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) for further information on some aspects of the Joint Action Plan, namely:

To the Home Office:

  • Returns: please provide the agendas and attendee lists of any "country-specific technical workshops" that have been held. What progress has been made with regard to "supporting returns to countries of mutual interest"?
  • Search and rescue: how many UK vessels and staff are currently deployed in the Aegean, and what is the annual cost?
  • Strategic migration dialogue: please provide the agendas and attendee lists of any meetings held as part of the strategic migration dialogue.
  • Organised Immigration Crime Taskforce: with which partner countries is the Taskforce currently working?

To the Crown Prosecution Service:

  • The agendas and attendee lists of any meetings, seminars and workshops held between the CPS and Greek authorities in relation to Project Invigor since 1 June 2019.

The responses included the following.

Home Office

Returns: "no country-specific technical workshops on returns have yet taken place between UK and Greek officials."

Deployments in the Aegean: "there are no UK vessels or staff currently deployed in search and rescue operations in the Aegean."

Strategic dialogue meetings:

"...a virtual meeting of the UK-Greece Strategic Dialogue took place on 26 March 2021. The meeting was attended by Chris Philp MP, then Minister for Immigration Compliance and the Courts, alongside his Greek counterparts Panagiotis Mitarakis, Minister for Migration and Asylum, and Sophia Voultepsi, Under-Secretary for Migration Policy and Asylum (Integration). The agenda focussed on irregular migration priorities, bilateral cooperation between the UK and Greece, and the EU’s New Pact on Migration and Asylum."

Information on the Organised Immigration Crime Taskforce was withheld:

"I can confirm that the Home Office holds the information that you have requested regarding the OIC Taskforce. However, after careful consideration we have decided that the information is exempt from disclosure under section 23(1) of the FOIA. This provides that information held by a public authority is exempt information if it was directly or indirectly supplied to the public authority by, or relates to, any of the bodies specified in subsection (3).

As the exemption at section 23(1) is both class-based and absolute, no evidence of harm or assessment of the balance of the public interest is required to support its application."

Section 23(3) includes MI5, MI6 and GCHQ, as well as the National Crime Agency (NCA) - who have made very clear that they are involved in the Organised Immigration Crime Taskforce - as well as a number of other bodies.

Crown Prosecution Service

The response from the CPS said that the organisation "does... hold recorded information pertaining to the categories of attendees, along with agenda details of events. Some of this information is compiled in the spreadsheet," copied into the table below.

Event Title Date Agenda Number of Attendees
Trade and Cooperation Agreement: One Year On 30/03/2022 Training on Extradition and MLA under the Trade and Cooperaton Agreement for Greek Judges and Prosecutors in OIC 20 - MLA judge GR, CPS extradition spoc, UK extradition judge, President of the Association of Judges and Prosecutors, Supreme Court prosecutor,Hosted online also - invitations to all Court of Appeal and First Instance Prosecutors in Greece, Court of Appeal Administrators (2), MOCP officials, Pireaus prosecutors (3), Athens prosecutors (3), Hellenic Ministry of Justice (2)
Introductory Visit - Komotini, Xanthi and Kavala 23/03/2022 Visit to prosecutors regional office and local courts  1 - CPS Liaison Prosecutor
Glasgow and Clyde Rape Crisis and courts 08/03/2022 - 18/03/2022 Visit to Glasgow and Clyde Rape Crisis and SARC incorporating Police Scotland
Visit to Court and meeting with prosecutors
22 (12 per visit including CPS Liaison Prosecutor and FCDO staff member)
INVIGOR introductory meeting Thessaloniki 27/02/2022 - 02/03/2022 Visit to Thessaloniki to meet Prosecutors  2 - CPS Liaison Prosecutor and FCDO staff member
Inward visit to Tulliallan for the Hellenic Police  24/09/2021 - 02/10/2021 Domestic abuse investigators course run by Police Scotland – providing skills in the use of risk assessments 2 Hellenic Police Officers specialising in Domestic Abuse and 1 CPS Liasion Prosecutor
CPS Legal Manager Line Management visit to Athens 27/07/2021 - 30/07/2021 28th July - met Director of Special Legal Affairs, Ministry of Justice, met the General Director of Detention Establishments Management and Crisis Management, Ministry of Citizens Protection, met with Director of Detention Establishments Management Division, also met HM Consul and Consular Regional Operations Manager for Greece and Cyprus met the CTPLO and HMA
29th July -  meeting with the IEI, met with the NCA Invigor, then the NCA lead Invigor, met with the Head of the Hellenic Police Domestic Violence Unit, met the Court of Appeal, Head Prosecutor, then a Judicial Trainer.
30th July - met the Court of Appeal Investigating magistrate (MLA), met with the DHM, met with the regional manager covering Cyprus and Greece from the HMRC, met with the Counsellor Migration/Security JSOC chair, met the Country based Security Team, met the Country based Migration Team
2 - CPS Legal Manager and CPS Liaison Prosecutor
IEI Document Fraud Awareness Training and meetings with police and immigration officials - Crete 24/05/2021 - 28/05/2021 Document Fraud Awareness training Heraklion Airport meetings with  prosecutors in Heraklion and Chief of Police -
meetings with  prosecutors in Chania and Chief of Police. Crete has two geographical jurisdictions and Chania is the HQ for the west of Crete. 
CPS Liaison Prosecutor and 4 FCDO colleagues 
IEI Document Fraud Awareness Training and meetings with police and immigration officials - Corfu 19/05/2021 - 21/05/2021 IEI document fraud awareness training CPS Liaison Prosecutor and 3 FCDO colleagues
CPS Liasion Prosecutor visit to Zakynthos 13/05/2021 - 14/05/2021 Meeting with Public Prosecutor Zakynthos
Meeting with Director of Zakynthos Police and Immigration
Meeting with Regional Vice- Governor
Meeting with Mayor Aretakis
CPS Liaison Prosecutor
Hellenic Police Domestic Abuse Workshop 31/03/2021 2.5 hour - various presentations via Zoom with translation 40 - External attendees and CPS Liaison Prosecutor
Extradition and Victim Information and Advice Webinar  30/03/2021 1.5 hour - various presentations via Zoom with translation 40 - External attendees and CPS Liaison Prosecutor
Inward visit to the Old Bailey  17/02/2020 Demonstration of Serious Cirmes trial Greek Counter Terrorism Prosecutor and Judge and CPS Liasion Prosecutor
Inward visit to Lighthouse Project and Vunerbale Witnesses Specilist Council 17/02/2020 - 19/02/2020 How to treat vulnerable witnesses Greek MoJ officials, Psychologists, Greek Prosecutor and CPS Liasion Prosecutor
Modern Slavery Human Trafficking training event in Hissarya 23/01/2020 - 24/01/2020 Investigation and Prosecution of Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking offences 50 - External attendees and CPS Liasion Prosecutor
Digital evidence training to combat Serious Organised Crime training session 22/01/2020 Use of digital evidence to support prosecution CPS Liasion Prosecutor and Greek Judges, Prosecutors and Investigators 
Training in Northern Greece on Domestic and Sexual abuse  17/09/2019 - 20/09/2019 Training provided on domestic and sexual abuse investigation and prosecution Greek Police Officers, Prosecutors, NGOs and local Municipality Officers
Training event for Greek prosecutors 04/03/2019 - 06/03/2019 Explore open source intelligence as a tool for law enforcement and as evidence for prosecutors in OC and OIC work 25 - Greek Prosecutors and CPS Liasion Prosecutor
One Day Workshop at the British Embassy  Mar-19 Workshop on violence against women and girls Greek Prosecutors, the judiciary, Moj, Police and NGOs 

Although the information provided gives no indication of any connection between UK-Greece cooperation and the prosecution of refugees, it is worth noting that during the period covered by the request the Greek authorities have prosecuted numerous refugees on smuggling charges, as in the infamous case of the Samos Two.

The CPS also refused to release some information related to the request, on the grounds of protecting international relations:

"The arguments under Section 27(1)(a) for non-disclosure are centred on the legitimate expectation that any material held by the CPS pertaining to information within the scope of your request would be exempt from disclosure. It therefore follows that subsequent disclosure would, or would be likely to, prejudice relations with the Greek authorities and the United Kingdom.

Disclosure would also be likely to prejudice relations with other countries that may fear a precedent for disclosure has been set more widely.

In addition, the release of the information requested would, or would be likely to prejudice the interests of the UK abroad. The British Government develops and maintains a robust relationship with other nation states which can promote mutual interest in a number of different areas including human rights and the fight against terrorism and international crime. Disclosure of the information held relevant to your request, which may prove detrimental to the UK’s relationship with one country, would in all likelihood result in other countries reconsidering their affinity with the UK...

Section 27 is a qualified exemption which means that the decision to disclose information is subject to a public interest test. There is a public interest in both increased transparency of public bodies generally and in releasing information that would increase public understanding of how states cooperate. Despite this public interest argument in favour of disclosure, in this instance, it is our view that the public interest in not releasing information that forms part of Project Invigor is even stronger.

We therefore believe that the public interest is in favour of maintaining the exemption, and that the requested material should be withheld."


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