Syrian refugees disguise themselves as Ukrainian volleyball team in attempt to enter Greece

Extraordinary attempt comes amid marked increase in number of refugees and migrants arriving in Greece

Richard Hall
Middle East correspondent
Monday 23 September 2019 18:17 BST
The 10 refugees were wearing matching tracksuits and carrying volleyballs
The 10 refugees were wearing matching tracksuits and carrying volleyballs

Ten Syrian refugees have been detained while trying to enter Greece disguised as a Ukrainian volleyball team, as the country struggles to deal with a new influx of asylum seekers.

Greek police said the men were arrested at Athens airport on Sunday after it was discovered that the passports they were carrying had been reported lost or stolen.

A police statement said the refugees were trying to reach Zurich, in Switzerland. They later released an image that showed the men dressed in sports kits, carrying volleyballs.

After determining that the men were not part of a volleyball team, police detained them and sent them to an examining magistrate to face charges of trying to illegally exit the country using stolen or lost travel documents.

The extraordinary attempt comes amid a marked increase in the number of refugees and migrants arriving in Greece in recent months. Between January and August this year, more than 25,000 people arrived by sea to the Greek islands – a 32 per cent rise compared to the same period in 2018, according to the United Nations.

Refugee centres on the Greek islands are severely overcrowded. A facility on the island of Lesbos that was designed to hold 3,000 is now housing more than 10,000. Others are also struggling.

The rise is being driven partly by a crackdown on Syrian refugees in Turkey and a spike in violence in Syria’s Idlib province, but the majority of refugees and asylum seekers are coming from Afghanistan.

Syrian refugees are under increasing pressure from host countries to return home, despite there being clear evidence that it is not safe to do so.

Human Rights Watch reported this month that a number of Syrians deported from Lebanon were arrested upon their return. The rights group said it had documented “arbitrary detentions, disappearances, and harassment in areas retaken by the government”.

Meanwhile, a devastating Russian and government offensive in Idlib has displaced tens of thousands of people in recent months.

With agencies

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