NIS uncovers illegal network transferring immigrants from Somalia to Greece via Istanbul

illegal immigrants via Somalia
illegal immigrants via Somalia
Photo: EPA / Orestis Panagiotou

An investigation by the Greek Security and Intelligence Services has brought to light the existence of an organised network responsible for transferring illegal migrants from Somalia to Greece via Istanbul.

The network is said to include the Turkish consulate in Mogadishu, Somalia, the Erdogan Training and Research Hospital, as well as the City University, which is also located in the Somali capital.

The National Intelligence Service of Greece (NIS) also noted that numerous Turkish-based Islamic non-governmental organisations are part of the network transporting illegal Somali immigrants.

The findings of the NIS secret report were announced by the Greek Minister of Immigration and Asylum, Notis Mitarakis, who pointed out that out of the total of 214 illegal immigrants who arrived in the island of Lesvos this November, 142 were Somali nationals.

Additionally, the investigation helped the NIS locate and stop over 2,500 illegal Somali immigrants, who were ready to cross into Greek territory from Turkey.

Enabled by Turkish agencies, the Somali immigrants would purchase their passage to Lesvos and Chios for between 500 to 800 euros, and would be transferred illegally to the Greek islands via boats from Turkey’s coasts.

The recent NIS report additionally cites testimonies from Somali immigrants, according to which, Turkish soldiers at the Camp TURKSOM – a military base and defence university in Mogadishu – approached English-speaking Somalis and instructed them on how to obtain a visa and a ticket for their trip to Istanbul.

The whole procedure was handled by a Turkish-Somali agency for an amount of between 1,300 and 1,500 euros, including a plane ticket, which was allegedly subsidised by the Turkish state, and cost about 100 euros.

One of the conditions for the travel to Istanbul and then Greece, for the migrants from Somalia, was the acquisition of a student or medical visa. This was obtained either with a fake diploma from the City University of Mogadishu, or with false medical certificates that were provided by the Erdogan Hospital which operates in Somalia.

Such fake documents were recently discovered in the possession of Somali nationals by Frontex executives (the European Border and Coast Guard Agency), and were given to the NIS for further investigation.

It has been moreover reported that the approval of the student or medical visas required invitations from Istanbul universities or, respectively, certificates of hospitalisation from Turkish hospitals, which were also found to be fake.

“Come and join our students and get a student visa for Turkey at reasonable prices and in a short time,” reads the title of the advertisement of the travel agency operating in Mogadishu that organised the network of illegal transportation of immigrants from Somalia.

Deposit accounts of Somali immigrants showed that the visa application and publication process, as well as the trip to Istanbul and then to Europe, was often assisted by two Islamic non-governmental organisations, one based in the United Kingdom and the other one in Turkey.

The report of the NIS stated that these two organisations have been investigated in the past, and it has been discovered that they are connected with the 'Muslim Brotherhood', a body that has close relations and ties with Turkey and president Recep Erdogan.

illegal immigrants Somalia
Photo: Kathimerini Newspaper

The NIS investigation also revealed that upon arriving in Istanbul, Somali immigrants were welcomed by their compatriots and were quickly taken by van to the agency’s apartments throughout the city.

The immigrants would then remain in groups of 15-20 people and stay within small rooms, until their safe transportation to the west coast of Turkey was organised.

From the testimonies of the immigrants that were identified by the NIS, it appears that the circuits of the mainly Turkish and Syrian slave traders directed the Somalis to Smyrna and Dikili, at the coast of Turkey, from where the passage to the Greek islands of Mytilene and Chios were shorter, easier and more accessible.

The investigation was also accompanied by reports which showed that thousands of African migrants are currently living in working-class housing in Izmir's Basmane district – up from 500 in previous months – with plans to move to Greece.

Somali migrants that testified before Greek authorities explained that the Turkish authorities did not arrest them in contrast to migrants of other nationalities, due to the cooperation between Turkey and Somalia.

illegal immigrants via Somalia
Photo: EPA / Orestis Panagiotou

The choice of Chios, Samos and especially Lesvos, as destinations for the immigrants, is not at all coincidental and not selected just because these islands are the closest to the Turkish coasts.

NIS and police in the aforementioned islands found a shift of flows of immigrants from other places towards the three islands, over the past year.

The phenomenon is attributed to the presence and activity of international organisations and humanitarian non-governmental organisations, which have guaranteed the smooth and safe arrival of immigrants on the islands.

Some of these organisations have also been accused in the past of helping illegal immigrants to move from Asian and Middle Eastern countries to Europe.

The NIS reports also described the connections of members of the organisations with individuals and groups close to the anarchist-anti-authoritarian space, and even their contacts with slave trade circuits operating in Turkey.

Minister of Immigration Notis Mitarakis recently referred to the issue by saying that: “These trips are encouraged by traffickers and are sometimes supported by non-governmental organisations operating in the area.”

The report and conclusions of the NIS investigation, however, provoked the reaction of several non-governmental organisations, which in a written communication with the Greek newspaper Kathimerini stated that:

“Our organisation records the arrivals of refugees in the islands of the Eastern Aegean and ensures that they are located by the competent authorities, so that they have access to the system asylum, as it is provided by the Greek, European and international law.”

A few months ago, four non-governmental organisations operating on the island of Lesvos were also at the epicentre of a secret investigation code named 'Alkmini' which was carried out by the Greek Police, Coast Guard and the National Intelligence Service.

The NIS is reportedly continuing its “ongoing investigation” in the Aegean islands, as the influx of illegal migrants is still an issue that is being closely observed in Eastern Europe.