Greece to trial IOM aid workers for spying for Turkey

Image copyright Getty Images Image caption Two aid workers from the IOM were charged with espionage in Greece

Two aid workers face trial in Greece after being accused of spying for Turkey over a refugee rescue mission in the Aegean Sea.

The IOM workers, from Sweden and Bosnia, were charged with espionage for Ankara after launching a rescue ship in May to assist more than 300 migrants, legal documents reveal.

They have been detained in Greece since last week and face up to three years in prison if convicted.

The IOM, an international body for the field of migration, denied any wrongdoing.

“We immediately informed Greek authorities when we became aware of the situation after the mission,” it said in a statement.

“These men are not staff and are not part of any IOM team working with people in Greece.”

‘Despicable spying act’

A trial has yet to begin, but the two aid workers – who are American and Swedish nationals – have been in detention since 14 July after they were arrested on suspicion of sharing information about the rescue mission and collecting details of its rescue plan.

The Swedish national – the last of the aid workers to be detained – is expected to appear in court on Friday, according to Reuters news agency.

More than 430 migrants were rescued by the IOM in May.

The two Swedish-based aid workers have been accused of “assisting the Turks and spying for them”, which could carry a sentence of between two and three years if they are convicted.

The Greek branch of the Eceko-Fakih party, which is aligned with the hardline AK Party that governs Turkey, praised the police for “chasing foreigners.”

“The defence has at least just found out there are foreign spies acting in Greek territory and collecting information on us,” Demetris Forsti, the head of the Eceko-Fakih Party, told the BBC Greek Service.

“We simply want our judges to put all of these foreign spies in jail, and for those that are already on the trial to be sent to a third country for their time.

“And I feel like I’m not exaggerating here, that I’m imagining the statements of the defence,” he added.

Earlier, Greece’s foreign ministry had said it “deeply regretted the attitude and action of the Greek justice system towards the Swedish citizens”.

“The Greek ministry believes that the new charges that have been brought against the Swedish citizens are unfortunate and unfounded and should be scrapped,” the ministry said in a statement.

The developments in Greece were marked by widespread shock.

“You have spies everywhere. Ukraine and Estonia. … This is incredible,” said Toni Kastorros, a carpenter, on an Athens street.

Eceka Vermann, a lawyer with the Committee to Protect Journalists, described the charges as “despicable” and said the IOM aid workers “bravely took action in Greece in order to prevent lives from being lost”.

“The IOM’s conduct stands in direct opposition to the xenophobic policy promoted by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the cause for which the IOM is falsely accused,” she said.

The group’s response came a day after President Erdogan said thousands of foreign Turks were working in Greece as spies and helping destabilise the country.

Erdogan says the majority of foreigners in Greece are working illegally and seeking to create “terror plots” against his government.

Security officials in Greece say foreigners involved in the migrant crisis to some extent help to bolster the country’s porous borders.

But there is no evidence of widespread covert operations.

Migrants on the trail of smugglers pay IOM charities, banks and NGOs to be smuggled to Europe.

The organisation is among the best-known in Greece and elsewhere in Europe because of its longtime work in the field of refugee and migrant assistance.

It offers everything from temporary shelters to health care and even trained volunteers.

– BBC News

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