Syrian refugees caught trying to leave Greece as athletes

Published March 30, 2021, 9:17 AM

by Agence-France-Presse

Migrants look on as they wait inside the new refugee camp of Kara Tepe in Mytilene, on Lesbos, on March 29, 2021. (Photo by ARIS MESSINIS / AFP)

For the third time in three years, Syrian refugees have tried to flee from Greece by impersonating a sports team, Athens airport police said Monday.

Late Sunday, nine Syrians dressed as members of a volleyball team with fake travel documents tried to board a flight to Vienna but were stopped by police.

Last year 12 other Syrians disguised as handball players with fake Bulgarian passports were arrested trying to board another flight to Vienna.

And in 2019, 10 Syrian refugees dressed as volleyball players were arrested at the airport with stolen and forged passports as they tried to leave Greece.

It is often the first European Union country that migrants reach but they are supposed to remain there while their asylum applications are processed.

Greece has toughened its migration policy since conservative Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis came to power in 2019.

Border patrols have increased, asylum processes have been quickened and benefits have been slashed, even for refugees who are granted asylum.