From file: Migrants walking outside their tents at the Karatepe refugee camp on Lesbos island, Greece | Photo: ARCHIVE/ EPA/VANGELIS PAPANTONIS
From file: Migrants walking outside their tents at the Karatepe refugee camp on Lesbos island, Greece | Photo: ARCHIVE/ EPA/VANGELIS PAPANTONIS

The non-governmental organization Aegean Boat Report has vehemently rejected accusations by Greek police that its members, along with those of other organizations, are involved in facilitating the illegal transfer of refugees and migrants to the Greek islands or that it was involved in espionage.

Aegean Boat Report, an organization that publishes information and photographs on the movements of migrants trying to reach the Greek islands from Turkey, has been at loggerheads with the Greek state in recent months due to an outspoken stance on Greece's policies on the migrant issue.

A case file compiled by Greek police on the northeast Aegean island of Lesbos and published in Greece contains allegations against 10 people, four of whom are nationals of Norway, the US and Britain, described as "members of an equal number of NGOs."

The police probe focused mainly on Aegean Boat Report. The organization has been particularly outspoken in its criticism of the government's handling of the ongoing migrant crisis, also accusing the Greek state of performing so-called "pushbacks".

NGO strongly denies accusations

Aegean Boat Report responded to the police report with a strongly worded statement that included asking for an apology by Greek authorities. "Aegean Boat Report is not, has never been and will never be a part of any smuggling ring, anywhere on Earth. We operate in strict adherence to international law, EU law and Greek law," it said.

It said it is "shocking and shameful that Aegean Boat Report is being forced to do the job of the Greek government" on migration, "because the Greek government prefers to shirk its responsibilities and, worse, to break laws to which Greece is a direct signatory."

"We would like an apology, but instead will settle for the Greek government ceasing to break international, EU and Greek law, and ceasing to smear us in this mendacious - and what is, in England referred to as vexatious - way," the statement said.

Heavy criticism

These latest developments follow Amnesty International's recent heavy criticism of Greek authorities over the controversial issue of pushbacks. Amnesty made fresh claims that the Greek government is methodically carrying out "pushbacks" as its "de facto" strategy to deal with attempts by refugees and migrants to enter the country.

"Greece must finally recognize the seriousness and extent of repatriation practices in the country and stop turning a blind eye to the losses, pain and costs that these practices have on human lives," said Amnesty in a media statement.

Greek Minister for Migration and Asylum Notis Mitarakis publicly rejected the allegations.

"Allegations affecting Greece are clearly unfounded," said Mitarakis in a media statement last week.

"Numerous cases have been investigated, including by the European Union, and reports have found no evidence of any breach of EU fundamental rights," he said.

Mitarakis reiterated the government's stance of focusing on the tightened security measures that have been implemented since the New Democracy government of Kyriakos Mitsotakis came into power as a way to protect both Greece and Europe's borders.

He also criticized Turkey for inaction against migrant departures. "Turkey is a safe country and can provide, where needed, appropriate international protection. Sadly, instead of Turkey preventing unlawful departures, it is often too busy filming them, rather than doing what it is mandated to do under the joint agreement - namely intervening to prevent these small boats from reaching Greece in the first place," he said.

 

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