22 December 2020
Claims by the Greek Migration Minister, Notis Mitarakis, that NGOs have been helping organise the irregular arrival of people onto the Aegean islands, have been debunked by a media investigation. Mitarakis' claims were made following the publication by the government of four video interviews with Somali citizens, which the government claimed proved they receiving illegal assistance from NGOs to arrive on Greek territory. However, the videos raise a number of questions that the government has failed to answer.
See: AYS Daily Digest 11/12/2020—Mitarakis’ Attacks on NGOs, Debunked (Are You Syrious?, link):
"A few days ago, Greek Migration Minister Notis Mitarakis published claims that NGOs are helping coordinate the arrival of Somali people to Greece by colluding with Turkish authorities. This latest attempt by the Greek government to discredit NGOs, like all the previous ones, is false. In fact, the only corroborating “evidence” the ministry offered were video interviews with four Somali people who had recently arrived in Greece.
The circumstances under which the videos were recorded are unclear. A video interview is not part of the official asylum process, especially not during an initial investigation. There are also questions about the legality of distributing the video."
Following the government's claims, Aegean Boat Report published a strong statement in response:
We are astonished to have been the focus of an unprovoked and deliberately misleading attack on our organisation.
Aegean Boat Report, in common with all aid organisations working to help the Greek government and the EU with the refugee response in Greece, strongly opposes people smuggling between Turkey and Greece.
We are not, never have been and never will be part of any smuggling network and we do not work, have never worked, and will never work with any person or people smuggling people on any route, in any part of the world.
We operate a public service, accessible to all, which locates men, women and children who arrive on the Greek islands, in part because the Greek government consistently fails to perform this basic function.
Once they are located, we ensure that they are taken to camps where they can enter the proper legal processes.
We are forced to do this because the men, women and children travelling to the EU are well aware by now that the Greek government practices illegal pushbacks, and if we did not help to ensure that they were found, they would attempt to stay in hiding on arrival. This would be the worst of all possible outcomes for every person including the citizens of Greece and wider EU.
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, and seen many men, women and children wandering Lesvos and other Eastern Aegean islands searching for shelter.
We must request the Minister ceases his baseless allegations, and advise him that 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.
We have broken no law, we do not work with anyone who does, and it is inexplicable that a Minister of the Greek government would seek to launch such a wild attack on a small organisation trying to ensure that people forced by Greek and EU policy to take dangerous journeys presided over by criminals do not die and are not lost to the system.
Far from Aegean Boat Report and other NGOs, the major factor assisting smugglers and ensuring they profit from the suffering of refugees is the Greek government and EU’s refusal to provide safe routes for people to travel and apply for asylum, which is their legal right.
None of the people arriving on the Greek islands are ‘illegal immigrants’. They are asylum seekers exercising their fundamental human rights.
The Greek state may of course decide whether to grant asylum to Somalians, whose country is a failed state and which has been in a state of war for more than 30 years.
And we hope the Greek government will in fact focus its attention on that decision, instead of continuing its ill-researched and misleading attacks on aid organisations working to help people survive, and help the Greek state.
In this way, we believe it and the EU will be able to respond to the situation on its borders in a manner befitting civilised actors in the modern world.
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