The Greek government has claimed that NGOs facilitated the illegal crossing of Somali migrants from Turkey to Greece. Now, Aegean Boat Report has responded to those claims, staunchly denying them.
Aegean Boat Report released a press statement on Wednesday, responding to accusations that non-governmental organizations (NGOs) had been involved in migrant smuggling.
"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 [who is/are] smuggling people on any route, in any part of the world," the organization -- which tracks migrant boat arrivals in the Aegean Sea -- wrote.
"The Aegean Boat Report, along with all aid organizations working to help the Greek government and the EU with the refugee response in Greece, strongly opposes people smuggling between Turkey and Greece," the Norwegian NGO said. They also accused Greece's leadership of "an unprovoked and deliberately misleading attack on our organization."
Claims from migration minister
Greece's migration minister Notis Mitarakis accused unnamed NGOs of helping migrants cross the border in a press conference on Tuesday.
Mitarakis, speaking to foreign correspondents in Athens, stated that his ministry had "witness testimony and confirmed information" that NGOs were helping Somali asylum seekers travel to Turkey, and from there helped arrange their crossing to Greece via migrant smuggling networks.
Mitarakis claimed that "NGOs pay for the cost of travel and the issuance of a visa to Turkey, with flights to Istanbul. Then [the migrants] are transported to the Turkish coast, where migrant smugglers, again with NGO support, help them enter the European Union illegally."
Since November 1, a total of 214 migrants have arrived on the Greek island of Lesbos -- 142 of them are reportedly from Somalia.
In their rebuttal to Mitarakis' claims, Aegean Boat Report criticized the Greek government for not doing enough to help migrants and refugees. They also reiterated accusations that Greece had illegally pushed back asylum seekers.
They said they tracked migrant arrivals in Greece "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."
They added: "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 Somalis, whose country is a failed state and which has been in a state of war for more than 30 years."
Arrivals from Turkey dropped
The number of refugees and migrants attempting to cross from Turkey to Greece has dropped considerably in 2020, in part due to stricter border controls. But attempts by migrants to make it to the Greek islands by boat from Turkey are still a weekly occurrence.
Greece and EU border protection agency Frontex have come under fire in recent weeks for their alleged involvement in pushbacks from Greece back to the Aegean Sea. Last week, European Union lawmakers called for the head of Frontex to resign over allegations that his agency helped illegally stop migrants or refugees entering Europe.