The Times revealed Tuesday, February 24, that Mr. Samaras’ government made a secret deal with a group of Syrian refugees in December offering them official residency papers and travel documents in return for information on people-smuggling gangs. About 200 people have so far been issued with the documents, and most have since left to claim asylum in other EU states.
Syrians who managed to reach Greece have told the Times of London newspaper that they convinced Athens to provide them with official residency papers. Once they had these, they were able to book flights to northern European countries more generous to migrants.
“The arrangement suited both parties, it is alleged. The Syrians did not want to settle in Greece, because the economy was in crisis and there were few jobs. Unlike Germany, it does not promote a policy of family reunification, where migrants can bring relatives to live with them once they are settled.”
Germany’s politicians reacted with fury, The Times said.
How it started
About 840 Syrians took part in a 24-day sit-in protest in Athens demanding the right to travel to other European countries. They were initially told that they would have to claim asylum in Greece.
Later, the government quietly reversed its position and told them that they would receive the documents that recognised them as legitimate asylum seekers in Greece. They received two sets of papers: a Greek residency pass and Greek travel documents.
With official Greek residency papers, Syrians have been able to book a flight to Germany, rip their papers up during the flight and claim asylum once they land in Germany.
Under EU law, asylum seekers must remain in the first country they arrive in and can be deported back to that country if they travel to other member states.
However, countries that are popular with migrants, such as Germany, Denmark and Sweden, cannot send the newcomers back to Greece because deportations to the cash-strapped country have been suspended since 2011 to help it cope with its own problems.Last month Germany extended its suspension on sending asylum seekers back to Greece by another year.
Abu Obei, one of the organisers of the Syrian demonstration, said: “When we started protesting in late November, the government [told us] that our only option was to claim asylum in Greece. But after 24 days a member of the government came to us and said we could work out a deal.”
“Refugees come to Greece as a transit point,” said Ahmed, a Syrian who has been in Greece for almost a year after crossing illegally from Turkey. “They want to travel on from here, so the thing everyone wants to avoid is having their fingerprints taken. If that happens, they can be deported back to Greece.”
Yannis Panousis, the new Greek minister of the interior, said that he was unaware of any sh uch deal, but pledged to investigate the claims.