27 September 2022
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:
To the Crown Prosecution Service:
The responses included the following.
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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