NEWS

Lawyers’ involvement in migrant smuggling racket being probed

STAVROS TZIMAS

TAGS: Migration, Crime

Judicial authorities in northern Greece are investigating the involvement of local lawyers in rackets smuggling migrants and refugees across Greece’s Evros River border from Turkey.

The file is currently in the hands of Thrace Appeals Court prosecutor Giorgos Siopis, who is summoning lawyers from the cities of Alexandroupoli and Oresteiada, but also from Thessaloniki and Athens, who have been accused of working with rackets or individual smugglers organizing illegal transfers from Turkey into Greece.

The judicial authorities are keeping quiet about the details of the questioning the lawyers will face, but sources have suggested that the probe is focused on at least six cases where it is believed large amounts of money were accepted to facilitate illegal entry.

It is also expected to bring more cases to light, given that such activities have been going on for years in the Evros region.

The involvement of lawyers throughout the transportation and “legalization” of undocumented migrants is something border guards in the area have known about for some time.

According to one former officer of the Hellenic Police (ELAS) who served at the Evros border for several years, back in Turkey the rackets arrange for their clients to have legal representation in Greece before they even cross the river. He says it is a privilege they pay “a lot of money for.”

“The traffickers are connected to lawyers in Alexandroupoli, Thessaloniki and Athens, whom they keep informed of arrival times and drop-off locations.

Once the migrants are across, they are met by people working with the traffickers, usually fellow countrymen, and the lawyer, and taken to a local police station to get a temporary permit which allows asylum seekers to stay in the country,” he explains.

“There were times when we got to the drop-off point before the migrants arrived only to find a lawyer and a driver waiting to take them to Athens or Thessaloniki,” he adds.

If a client is arrested for illegal entry, the smugglers can get in touch with their associates in Greece or the client’s relatives in another European country to arrange for legal counsel.

In Sweden, Germany, Denmark, the Netherlands and elsewhere, smuggling rings can also arrange to get a clients transported out of an entry country like Greece, assigning lawyers to defend them in court if necessary, but also to take care of all the paperwork for family reunifications.

Testimonies from hundreds of arrested migrants have given the authorities a very clear picture of how these rackets operate. On the basis of different threads of information, they have ascertained that groups of migrants are driven in minibuses for 10 or 20 people to Turkey’s border with Greece.

The smuggler is also on board, as is a rubber dinghy for the crossing. The passengers are dropped off at a remote locations and they then travel on foot along an assigned route, guided by the trafficker.

When night falls, they set off to cross the river in the dinghy. If the water level is below half a meter they attempt the crossing on foot, as the Greek bank is just a few dozen meters away.

In the meantime, the trafficker will have called his associate on the other side, who has arranged to pick up the group in another van and bring along the lawyer who will – for a small fortune – help the migrants overcome any obstacles that may present themselves when they register with the police as asylum seekers.

“All of us who live here know that there’s a lucrative business that involves lawyers, among many others. There’s a lot of money going around and a lot of people are benefiting,” a local official who asked not to be named told Kathimerini.

“That’s how everything’s done on the border with Turkey.”

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