Greece is gravely concerned about a new illegal migrant wave of Somalis who are entering Greece by means orchestrated by Turkey, aided by a network of NGOs and migrant traffickers.
Earlier this month, Migration Minister Notis Mitarakis said in a news brief that more than half of the people arriving on the island of Lesvos from Turkey in November were from Somalia. The Minister said that out of a total of 214 migrants arriving on Lesvos during the previous month, 142 were from Somalia.
Somalis aided by Turkey to enter Greece
According to a joint report from Greece’s National Intelligence Service, Police and Coast Guard, the well-organized network transfers migrants from Somalia to Greece, via Istanbul.
More specifically, the network is said to involve the Turkish consulate in Mogadishu, the Somali capital, the City University of Mogadishu, and the Erdogan Hospital (also located in Mogadishu) as well as Turkish-based Islamic non-governmental organizations.
In order for Somali nationals to travel from Somalia to Istanbul they have to acquire a student or medical visa. This is obtained either by a fake diploma from the City University of Mogadishu or by false medical certificates from a hospital — incredibly, using the code name “Erdogan.”
One such certificate was recently found by Frontex executives in the possession of a Somali national. Invitations from Istanbul universities or certificates of hospitalization from Turkish hospitals are still required for the approval of the student or medical visa.
The report cites testimonies from illegal migrants, according to which Turkish soldiers from the Camp TURKSOM military base in Somalia approached English-speaking Somalis and instructed them on how to obtain a visa and a subsidized ticket for their trip to Istanbul.
The procedure is handled by an agency at a cost of 1,300-1,500 euros, including a plane ticket, which is allegedly subsidized by the Turkish state and costs about 100 euros.
“Come join our students and get a student visa for Turkey at reasonable prices and in a short time,” says a travel agency advertisement in Mogadishu.
Statements by Somali immigrants also indicate that the process is often assisted by two Islamic non-governmental organizations, one based in the United Kingdom and the other in Turkey. The report of the Greek security services states that these two organizations have been investigated in the past, and they are connected with the Muslim Brotherhood, an organization that has good relations with Turkish President Erdogan.
Upon arrival in Istanbul, Somali migrants are welcomed by their compatriots. They are taken by van to city apartments, where they stay in groups of 15-20 people until their safe transportation to the west coast of Turkey can be organized.
From migrants’ testimonies, it appears that the networks of mainly Turkish and Syrian migrant traffickers direct the Somalis to Smyrna and Dekeli, from where the passage to Lesvos is easier.
According to Mitarakis, who cites the security services report, currently some 2,500 Somalis are in Izmir waiting for the proper conditions to cross over onto the Greek islands. Each individual passage to Lesvos and Chios costs from 500 to 800 euros.
Somali migrants testified before Greek authorities that Turkish police do not arrest them, unlike they do with migrants of other nationalities, due to the close cooperation between Turkey and Somalia.
“Anarchist groups” involved
The boats carrying Somalis to their illegal crossing to Greece are aided by Turkish Coast Guard boats. If the boats are detected by Frontex or Greek Coast Guard vessels, they are asked to return to Turkey. There have been occasions when the boats have capsized, and Turkey then of course accuses Greece of “sinking refugee boats.”
Once on Lesvos, there are international organizations and humanitarian non-governmental organizations that direct the migrants and instruct them to follow asylum-seeking procedures. According to the report, some of the people aiding the Somalis belong to migrant-trafficking networks — and even anarchist groups.
Four non-governmental organizations operating on Lesvos have been investigated recently by the Hellenic Police, the Hellenic Coast Guard and the National Intelligence Service for aiding the illegal passage of migrants to Greece.
Turkey’s presence in Somalia
Turkey clearly has a strong foothold in Somalia, a fellow Muslim country. In September of 2017, Turkey established Camp TURKSOM, a large military base and a defense college in Mogadishu. It also serves as the base of a Turkish-Somali task force called “African Eagle.”
At Camp TURKSOM, Turkey ostensibly trains officers of the Somali Armed Forces in order for the country to build an independent military. Allegedly, at the Turkish-run army academy, cadets are also taught to sing Turkish military anthems.
Camp TURKSOM is seen by analysts as a symbol of Turkey’s expansionism. Its presence in Somalia aims at establishing a Turkish-friendly Somali military force, thus expanding its economic and geopolitical power in a sensitive and already-destabilized part of Eastern Africa.
At the moment, Ankara is using nationals from the impoverished African country looking for a better way of life in Europe in order to place economic and social pressure on Greece and the entire EU.