Norwegian NGO Aegean Boat Report has vehemently denied accusations levelled against it by Migration Minister Notis Mitarakis of assisting migrant smugglers in the Aegean.
“We are astonished at this unprovoked and deliberately misleading attack on our organisation. Aegean Boat Report, in common with all aid organisations working to help the Greek government and the EU with the refugee response in Greece, strongly opposes people smuggling between Turkey and Greece,” Aegean Boat Report founder and director Tommy Olsen said in an emailed press release on Wednesday.
“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 smuggling people on any route, in any part of the world,” he added, noting that the NGO locates men, women and children who arrive on the Greek islands, “in part because the Greek government consistently fails to perform this basic function.”
Once they are located, the NGO ensures that they are taken to camps where they can enter the proper legal processes.
“We are forced to do this 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. This would be the worst of all possible outcomes for every person including the citizens of Greece and wider EU,” he added and called on mitarakis to stop attacking his "baseless attacks."
“If he wishes to allege we have acted illegally or improperly he must produce something more than a small number of refugees saying that smugglers in Turkey know the name Aegean Boat Report’and tell them if they attempt to contact us they will be given dry clothing and a bottle of water.”
In a briefing with the foreign press on Tuesday, Mitarakis accused unnamed nongovernmental organizations of facilitating the illegal crossing of dozens of undocumented Somali migrants from Turkey into Greece.
He said that the ministry has “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.
“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,” Mitarakis said, without providing additional details.