Posted on August 17, 2021

Greece Clamps Down on Aid Groups That Help Migrants

Raja Abdulrahim, Wall Street Journal, August 13, 2021

Greece has become the latest European country to raise pressure on aid groups that help asylum seekers, accusing them of involvement in trafficking, as part of its efforts to stem the flow of migrants and refugees who continue to make dangerous journeys to Europe.

The country has launched criminal investigations into several organizations in the past year, while also imposing new requirements on registering with the government.

Aid groups say it is part of a wider pattern of Greek authorities trying to discredit them and make it harder for them to operate, under the assumption that fewer migrants will come to Greece if there are fewer nongovernmental organizations helping them when they arrive.


Greece’s government says its measures are aimed at stopping human trafficking. “We don’t want to be the gateway to Europe for illegal migration or smuggling networks. Also we have done a great job of countering smuggling networks, dismantling them,” said Alexandros Ragkavas, spokesman for the Greek Ministry of Migration and Asylum.

Greek authorities have used a variety of tactics in recent years to reduce the number of people who cross the Aegean Sea or Greece’s land border with Turkey, and either claim asylum or continue on to other European countries such as Germany.

Testimony from numerous migrants suggests Greek authorities last year began escalating their use of pushbacks, or forcible extrajudicial deportations of migrants who have just entered Greece by sea or land, as well as rounding up migrants from inside Greek territory and sending them back across the Turkish border.

Greece has repeatedly denied using pushback tactics, dismissing all evidence and reports in international media as propaganda by its geopolitical rival Turkey. Despite Greece’s denials, European Union authorities have criticized the practice of pushing back migrant boats, with EU Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson telling the government in July to stop such actions {snip}


On July 19, Greek prosecutors announced a criminal investigation into 10 people, including four NGO workers, “for the offenses of facilitating the illegal entry of foreigners into Greek territory, espionage, complicating investigations by the Greek authorities, as well as other violations of the immigration code.” They were also accused of “providing substantial assistance to organized circuits of illegal trafficking of migrants.”


Last year, Greece’s migration ministry began introducing stricter legal and regulatory criteria for NGOs and requiring them to submit to a lengthy registration process. About 65 aid groups working with migrants have been rejected under this process, although they are allowed to reapply, said Mr. Ragkavas, the ministry spokesman.

Greece also recently designated Turkey as a safe country for five major nationalities of migrants—Somali, Bangladeshi, Afghan, Pakistani and Syrian—meaning that they should seek asylum there and making it unlikely that they can qualify for asylum in Greece.