A search and rescue attempt is currently underway off the Greek island of Lesvos after three women were reported to have fallen off a migrant boat as it neared the island early on Friday.
The Greek Coast Guard launched the operation in the cold December waters after being told about the incident by 24 other migrants, including women and children, who had arrived at Lesvos’ Bay of Gerras earlier in the day.
They reported that three females had fallen off the same boat as it approached the island.
All of the migrants are from Somalia. Earlier this week, Greek intelligence sources had charged Turkey with a scheme of granting fake student visas to Somalis and transporting them to the country’s ports, where they would then board boats to migrate to Greece.
The new illegal migrant wave of Somalis 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.