Greek NGO founder arrested in migration probe

Lesbos Island (Greece) (AFP) –


The founder of a Greek NGO facing charges for allegedly helping migrants illegally enter the country was arrested Wednesday, police said.

Panos Moraitis, who set up Emergency Response Centre International, gave himself up on the island of Lesbos after being sought for three weeks.

ERCI's field director Nassos Karakitsos and two volunteers, Irishman Sean Binder and Syrian refugee Sarah Mardini, were arrested in August and put in pre-trial detention.

The police are seeking 30 people overall in what they say is an operation to dismantle a "criminal network" on Lesbos, where some 11,000 migrants are living in camps.

Police accuse ERCI members of offering direct assistance to people traffickers and asking for advance warning of arrivals without passing on the information to authorities.

Mardini and her sister Yusra's plight to reach Lesbos from Turkey made the news in 2015, when they used their swimming skills to pull to safety their water-logged boat with another 18 people onboard

The following year Yusra, now a UNHCR goodwill ambassador, participated on the refugee team at the Rio 2016 Olympics and Mardini went on to win a scholarship studying economics and social sciences at Bard College in Berlin.

Lesbos has been a key gateway into the European Union since the start of the bloc's migration crisis in 2015.

At the height of the influx, some 5,000 migrants and refugees, mostly from war-torn Syria, landed on the island's beaches on a daily basis.

It now has the highest concentration of migrants in Greece, with the worst conditions in the camp of Moria where over 8,000 people live, according to UN figures -- about triple the nominal capacity.

Most wait months for their asylum applications to be processed. Living conditions are squalid and violent flare-ups common.

Earlier this year, three Spaniards and two Danes were also accused of trying to help migrants illegally enter Greece. A court cleared them in May.