Refugee crisis

Greece arrests three Spanish aid workers trying to assist refugees

The volunteers from Seville may be charged with human trafficking for helping the migrants

Greek officers lead Spanish volunteers from Proem-aid to a police van following their arrest with two Danish nationals in the Aegean Sea.
Greek officers lead Spanish volunteers from Proem-aid to a police van following their arrest with two Danish nationals in the Aegean Sea.EFE

Three Spaniards have been arrested along with two Danish nationals in Greece on illegal human trafficking charges after they tried to offer help to a group of migrants who were attempting to reach European shores, officials have confirmed.

The Spaniards – three firefighters from Seville – are members of the NGO Proem-aid and were working alongside two Danes from a similar organization called Team Humanity. The Greek Coast Guard intercepted their boat near the port of Mitilene on the island of Lesbos early Thursday morning.

The Spaniards were identified as Julio Latorre, José Enrique and Manuel Blanco, according to Efe. All five defendants are expected to go before a judge on Saturday, lawyer Jaris Pétsikos told the Spanish news agency.

The incident comes one day after another Spaniard was reportedly arrested on alleged espionage charges by Greek authorities, who accused him of being a member of a “radical leftist group,” sources said.

Proem-aid spokesman José Amor said that his colleagues face one count each of illegal human trafficking.

The Spaniards and Danes were picked up at around 3am Thursday in the Aegean Sea. According to European officials in Greece, the recreational boat they were using didn’t comply the requisites to be identified as a rescue vessel.

“They were just navigating at sea,” said Mirlinda Arisi, 26, a member of Team Humanity, which has been helping the Syrian refugees in Lesbos for the past five months.

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“We always work in coordination with the port authorities,” add Amor. “They know we are here, and when they approach, we identify ourselves.” He explained that members of his NGO always work in Greek maritime waters and approach vessels carrying refugees that may need assistance.

However, sources at Frontex – the European border control agency – said that the vessel was very close to Turkish territorial waters.

The volunteers, who had come to the aid of three rubber boats carrying possible asylum seekers, tried to reach land when they were approached by Coast Guard officials. Authorities reportedly found no danger in any of the vessels, including the ones carrying the migrants.

“They will probably be charged with helping boats carrying migrants to illegally enter the European Union,” said one Frontex source.

The three Spaniards, who arrived in Lesbos two weeks ago, are receiving legal assistance from the Spanish Embassy in Athens.

“We know of no reason why the Greeks have had a change in policy. Maybe it has to do with the latest terrorist attacks,” Amor said. “They arrested them, threw them handcuffed in a van and took them to police headquarters. Right now they are in jail.”

On Wednesday, Greek authorities reportedly arrested a Spaniard, who lives in the Netherlands, on the island of Chiros. They identified him as being a member of a radical leftist group and said they caught him secretly taking pictures with his cellphone of one of the boats docked at port.

After they arrested him, they accompanied him to the apartment where he was staying with his girlfriend and two Swedish friends who are members of an NGO. Authorities found large quantities of prescription medicines and a can of pepper spray.

Neither the Spanish Foreign Ministry nor the embassy in Athens have confirmed the arrest.

English version by Martin Delfín.