Tom Kelly, Daily Mail, May 15, 2016
Hundreds of migrants from the Caribbean are travelling more than 6,000 miles to enter the European Union through Greece, the Mail can reveal.
Instead of trying to get into the United States a few hundred miles to the north, many are making the journey across the Atlantic to Istanbul in Turkey.
From there, they travel along the coast to join thousands of refugees on the perilous crossing of the Aegean to the Greek islands.
On arrival some claim to be from Somalia or even from Syria or Afghanistan in an attempt to gain asylum and get free travel across most of the EU.
Last year almost 400 migrants came to Greece from the Caribbean, the vast majority from the Dominican Republic.
And a further 150 have arrived from the Dominican Republic in the first three months of this year.
It confirms suspicions that economic migrants are using the European refugee crisis to enter the continent. More than a million people tried to enter the EU by sea last year, with many making the boat crossing from Turkey to Greek islands such as Lesbos.
EU border guard Anna Smigielska, whose job is to interview migrants arriving on Lesbos to identify their nationality, said: ‘For us it seems strange, but they say it’s one of the easiest ways to get into Europe. I asked some of them, how is it you are coming this route?
‘They say there are cheap flights and they don’t need visas for Turkey, so it is not so hard.’
In one case, she said, a migrant from Haiti–on the same Caribbean island as the Dominican Republic – claimed to be from Syria.
She said: ‘We kept saying, “You don’t speak Arabic and, frankly, you don’t look like you are from Syria,” but he kept insisting he was. Finally, we said, “You really have to say you are from somewhere other than Syria.” He replied, “OK, I’m from Afghanistan.” Only after a long time did he admit to being from Haiti.’
They fly from the holiday resort of Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic to Schiphol airport in Amsterdam and transfer for a flight to Istanbul, where they are believed to pay smuggling gangs to organise passage over sea to Greece.
A spokesman for EU border agency Frontex said: ‘Although geographically it is an extreme form of travel to go from the Dominican Republic, once a route is established by genuine refugees other economic migrants tend to follow because they know it is a way.’
Similarly, many migrants from Morocco travel through Greece rather than crossing the Mediterranean to Spain. Concerns about Caribbean migrants entering Europe through Turkey were first raised five years ago by Dutch officials.
It was sparked by Dutch carrier KLM noting the high number of ‘no shows’ on return flights from Istanbul to the Dominican Republic via Amsterdam, which travellers from the island are required to book before entering Turkey.
And Frontex said in 2012 a group arrived on a land border between Greece and Turkey, refusing to speak other than to say that they were from Somalia. Only when a translator spoke to them in their native Spanish did they realise they were from the Dominican Republic.
The majority arriving on the Greek islands are from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq. But last year, the Greek coastguard also registered 351 migrants from the Dominican Republic, eight from Haiti, two Cubans, one Jamaican, two from Honduras and two from Colombia.