Greece has arrested dozens of non-governmental organization (NGO) members accused of trafficking migrants into Europe and interfering in border controls, according to reports.
A total of 35 foreign nationals, including 33 people working for NGOs, were rounded up as part of an extensive investigation conducted by Greek intelligence and counter-terrorism agencies.
The suspects face a variety of criminal charges, including espionage, forming and joining a criminal organization, violating state secrets, and violating the immigration code, Greek police agency ELAS said in a statement.
Four NGOs – based mostly outside of Greece – have been named by authorities: Watch the Med, Mare Liberum, Sea Watch, and FFMEV.
Citizens of Germany, France, Switzerland, Norway, Austria, and Bulgaria comprise the group of 33 suspects, along with two illegal migrants from Iran and Afghanistan.
The network is believed to have coordinated with human traffickers in Turkey to assist the passage of illegal migrants into Greece, primarily via the island of Lesvos.
They are also accused of accessing and sharing confidential information regarding the movements of the Greek Coast Guard.
“Chronologically, the organized network is determined to have been in action since at least from the beginning of last June, in the form of providing substantial assistance to organized networks of illegal immigration," Vima Press reports. "As for their methodology of action (modus operandi), those involved, under the pretext of humanitarian action, facilitated refugee flows from Turkey, using closed groups, internet applications, and confidential information.”
“Such information concerned the gathering places on the Turkish coast and the time of departure of specific refugee flows to the island of Lesvos, the coordinates (longitude and latitude) of specific refugee flows and their direction at a specific time and place, the number of foreign nationals aboard in boats, as well as the prevailing situation during the voyage of the boats, their final destination (landing area), and details for the accommodation areas in KYT [Center for Registration and Reception of Refugees and Immigrants] in Moria on Lesvos.”
Central to the trafficking network's strategy is an emergency phone service for migrants called AlarmPhone, authorities say.
InfoMigrants reported that AlarmPhone is a "a hotline for migrants who get into trouble on the high seas. It forwards emergency calls to the nearest coast guard agency and tries to pressure authorities into acting swiftly to rescue the refugees."
Citizen journalists in Greece believe they may have intercepted video of migrants using the system to request a 'rescue' at sea.
Greek authorities say the trafficking network moved large numbers of non-European migrants into the country, organizing at least 32 separate operations, both successful and failed.
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(PHOTO: Kostas Pikoulas/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)Dan Lyman: Follow @CitizenAnalyst