17:22 Mar. 30, 2016
Migrants stuck in Greece are turning to a barely disguised smuggling market for passage to other European countries
The leaders of 15 human-smuggling networks gathered behind the closed curtains of an Afghan restaurant here in late February, the air fragrant from grilled lamb and hookahs. It was time to celebrate a boost to their business, people present recall. Police in Macedonia had just stopped letting Afghans cross the border from Greece.
Today, the entire human highway to Europe's north, traveled by nearly a million refugees and other migrants last year, has been closed. The crackdown, complete with razor-wire fences guarded by riot police, has stranded about 50,000 migrants in Greece. Many are desperate to get out but too afraid to turn back. For those with cash left, smugglers are now the best hope.
The combination of closed borders and unrestrained migration has turned Athens's Victoria Square and the nearby port city of Piraeus into the center of a barely disguised human-trafficking business.
In grimy cafes, cheap hotels and dark alleys, business is booming for smugglers who arrange transit around closed borders and into relative safety. They say they even offer a money-back guarantee—most of the time.
"If you stay here even for five minutes, you will see it. A human bazaar is taking place," said Orestis Papadopoulos, owner of a kiosk on Victoria Square that sells cigarettes and magazines. "And when the police clear the square, they just go around the corner and come back minutes later." Full story