Illegal migrants eye charter flights

Faced with tighter police controls at Greece?s western ports of Patras and Igoumenitsa, human traffickers are increasingly using smaller airports across the country to smuggle illegal migrants into Western Europe, Kathimerini understands.

Hundreds of unregistered migrants have been collared at airports on Santorini, Myconos, Samos and Mytilene in recent months while trying to travel to major cities in Western Europe using fake documents, according to police.

Suspects usually prefer direct charter flights that do not involve stopovers at the bigger, more secure airports across the European Union.

Some 331 clandestine migrants were arrested between May 1 and July 23, according to police.

?They enter the country illegally through Evros and then, via Piraeus, they travel to regional airports aiming to get aboard a summer charter flight to Western Europe,? a police official who asked not to be identified told Kathimerini.

He said that most would-be passengers buy fake travel documents in Athens?s central Omonia district. The price of being transported to an airport can reach up to 3,000 euros, the officer said, adding that suspects are equipped with airport maps that help them keep clear of security checks.

Human smugglers also use the main airports at Athens and Thessaloniki. In the first half of 2012, some 589 people tried to board flights to one of the passport-free Schengen zone countries, according to police. A total of 436 were arrested at Athens International Airport and 153 in Thessaloniki. Most of those came from Afganistan, Iraq and Syria.

Police also apprehended 86 human traffickers over the same period.

Meanwhile, late on Friday, officials of the hard-left SYRIZA party slammed the ongoing police operation aimed at rounding up illegal immigrants in Athens dubbed Xenios Zeus.

?Incriminating poverty, launching war against poor foreigners, and racism are no guarantee for the security of the increasingly poor Greeks,? 12 SYRIZA MPs said in a statement.