People Smugglers Capitalise As Borders Tighten

Human traffickers’ phone numbers are passed around migrant camps in Greece as other countries strengthen their borders.

Along with the puddles, a feeling of uncertainty is growing in northern Greece as 12,000 migrants fear their journey to the European Union is finished.

Several hundred Syrians and Iraqis were let across the border into Macedonia on Friday, but the vast majority will spend weeks – or months – in these waterlogged wheat fields.

Not surprising then, that the people-smuggling gangs stand to reap the benefit as central European countries like Macedonia tighten up their borders.

Sky News has talked to dozens of camp occupants in the Greek village of Idomeni who told us that the phone numbers of people-smuggling gangs are being distributed throughout the camp.

Abu Ali, a Syrian army deserter, gave us an insight into how the smugglers operate.

“Most people here know how it works,” he said.

“We have the (phone) number but we don’t know what they look like.

“The smugglers say we can’t pick you up at the camp. You to have come to us in Athens.”

He knows it is dangerous – hundreds of migrants died in the back of lorries last year – but he told us that deserters have few options.

The Syrian army still holds his passport and the Macedonians are unlikely to let him through without recognised documents.

Still, he told me there may be another way into the European Union.

“There is a route to Albania,” said Abu Ali.

“It is dangerous and very long, through mountains and forest. It’s hard but if a friend sends me some money I’ll consider it.”

At the local Western Union office in Idomeni, we found a dozen or so camp occupants trying to pick up cash sent by friends of relatives, including a Syrian architecture student called Hannah.

She told us that her uncle in Australia had sent her money after seeing her doing an interview on German television.

She said she thought about handing it over to a smuggler.

“I heard [it costs] 1,000, 2,000, 2,500 (euros) to get to Germany. I have thought of doing it but it is dangerous. I came (to Greece) illegally so I really want to continue it legally,” she said.

The problem is that member states of the EU cannot make a decision on how to distribute genuine asylum seekers – Syrians for example, like Hannah.

As concern mounts about the numbers of refugees arriving in Europe, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande talked about strengthening the EU’s borders on Friday.

“Germany and France are completely in agreement on the necessity of protecting exterior borders … because we need to know who is entering Europe,” the German leader said.

Still, those who have fled barrel bombs and terror in Syria and Iraq are unlikely to go back to where they came from – and it seems clear that some will do anything to get to Germany or beyond.


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