Operation points to NGO smuggling role

Operation points to NGO smuggling role

A clandestine operation staged by the Greek National Intelligence Service (EYP) and the Hellenic Police (ELAS) in August, involving two undocumented migrants who worked as undercover agents, was what led authorities to the conclusion that members of four nongovernmental organizations active on the island of Lesvos engaged in people smuggling, Kathimerini understands. 

According to classified documents seen by Kathimerini, a total of 35 members of the four NGOs facilitated the movement of illegal immigrants and refugees from Turkey to Lesvos using “illegal methods and procedures.”

They are nationals of Germany, France, Switzerland, Austria, Norway and Bulgaria, and two of the NGOs under investigation are based in Berlin, according to the documents.

The operation code-named Alcmene – after the mother of the mythological hero Hercules – was completed on August 12 at the height of the Greek-Turkish standoff as warships from both countries patrolled the eastern Aegean.

It essentially entailed “directed smuggling” overseen by Greek authorities, with the two migrants recruited by EYP arriving in Izmir, Turkey, and then boarding a boat with undocumented migrants destined for Lesvos.

The two agent migrants subsequently detailed what happened during the transfer, shedding light on how the NGOs allegedly operate. The conclusions from the descriptions and information provided by the two migrants will be evaluated in a criminal investigation launched by a Greek prosecutor.

The classified ELAS documents revealed that the four NGOs make use of the AlarmPhone application – an emergency telephone number used by refugees and migrants crossing the sea from the coast of Turkey to the Greek islands. The app is also used by migrants traveling from Libya to Malta and Italy.

The migrants call the number and inform the NGOs about their exact location. The NGO volunteers then undertake to contact the Hellenic Coast Guard and ask its staff to collect the boat with the migrants. If there is no immediate response, they publish the issue on social networks as a form of pressure. This app is not secret but accessible through the website and Twitter.

The probe was launched in May and was initially into six NGOs, though no evidence was found incriminating two of the groups so the investigation was narrowed down to the four. 

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