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Islanders on Lesbos block camp and port as refugee arrivals spike

Lesbos, Greece – Refugees arriving on the island of Lesbos on Sunday told stories suggesting the Turkish government co-opted people smugglers in its policy of ushering asylum seekers west in Europe. A group of 28 Syrians and people of several African nationalities sat on the beach near the Mytilene airport under the watchful eye of…

Islanders on Lesbos block camp and port as refugee arrivals spike

Lesbos, Greece – Refugees arriving on the island of Lesbos on Sunday told stories suggesting the Turkish government co-opted people smugglers in its policy of ushering asylum seekers west in Europe.
A group of 28 Syrians and people of several African nationalities sat on the beach near the Mytilene airport under the watchful eye of police, waiting to be taken for registration.
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“I was in church with my wife and the smugglers came to church and told us that if we wanted to go to Greece we could get on a boat for free. And we went with him to the beach and got on the boat,” a Congolese man told Al Jazeera without stating his name.
A man from Sierra Leone happened to be walking past the beach at the time. “I asked if I could go and they said, ‘You can go.’ I didn’t have to pay anything,” he said.
The rubber dinghy that the men arrived in was bobbing in the shallows. Police removed its outboard engine.
These experiences suggest that Turkish smugglers have been co-opted to pursue a government policy of pushing people west, but it is unclear who is paying the smugglers.
Government spokesman Stelios Petsas said in a statement, “Instead of curtailing networks of people smugglers, Turkey has itself become a smuggler.”
By Sunday evening, more than 500 people had arrived on Greece’s eastern Aegean islands of Samos, Chios and Lesbos in 13 separate boats, and rescue operations were continuing.

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