Case 28

Blood Strawberries
AGENFOR (Vasileios FOUKAS and Vasileios ROUSSAKIS)
Assessed case number:
no number
Brief description of the case
Kuros is a Syrian 38 year old male who used to work in an agricultural company in his country. The civil war in Syria made him unemployed but he refused to leave his family and the last years he has working temporarily on whatever he could find. Since things have not changed at all, he has decided to leave at last Syria for a better future, while Europe is his final destination. Mehmet is a 34 year old Turkish male who is a member of migrant smuggling group active in Turkey. This criminal group is focused on Syria nationals who want to escape from their country and it has links with another criminal group in Greece which receives Syrian nationals for labor exploitation. Its modus operandi includes fake job adrvertisements on social media groups for easy deception and recruitment. Asterios is a 45 year old male in Athens who trades agricultural equipment. He has been the owner of a shop since 2000, as he received it from his father. Apart from this, Asterios has been dealing with migrants smuggling since 2015, as he has become a member of a criminal group which transfers mainly Syrian nationals from Turkey to Greece and then sends them to farmers/clients across Greece for labor exploitation. His criminal group has links with Mehmet’s criminal group. Dimitris is a 40 year old farmer in Pyrgos who cultivates acres of strawberries. He is a client of Asterios as he has received since 2015 10 Syrian nationals who have been working for him in Pyrgos receiving poor salary and living as slaves in one of his small safe houses across his land. Dimitris is currently in direct contact with Asterios as he immediately wants another “worker” for the annual harvest. Kuros checks some job advertisements on Facebook and Instagram after being informed by some friends in Syria. These advertisements speak about job opportunities in Greece in several sectors, including the agricultural. He sends a message on one of these on Instagram, whose user is Mehmet. The cost for the trip has to be covered from Kuros himself and is 3500 US Dollars which has to be loaded to an account in Western Union. Kuros has no other choice than giving all his savings for a better future in Greece. After loading the money he texts Mehmet about it and the journey starts. He enters Turkey and reaches Tsesme, and from there he passes by boat to Ikaria island. When he lands on Ikaria island, he contacts Emre, a Turkish male, a smuggler who is the link between Mehmet’s and Asterios’ smuggling groups on Telegram. Kuros receives from Emre on Telegram the ferry ticket which will bring him to Piraeus, where Asterios will receive him. Emre informs Asterios via Signal about the departure of Kuros from Ikaria island. After his arrival in Piraeus, Kuros is delivered from Asterios to Dimitris in Pyrgos. Dimitris announces to Kuros that he will work for him receiving a decent montly salary with some extras and brings him to his accommodation next to the farms. There he threatens him with a gun and tells him that from now on he is a slave and he has to work truly hard to earn his daily food and water, locking him inside the safe house with the other “workers”, without any access on mobile phone. Kuros realizes that his long journey has ended to a prison since he has been deceived but he has no other choice than work for Dimitris. His “colleagues” advise him not to do anything stupid as they are in the middle of nowhere with assistants of Dimitris monitoring them. They also tell him that even the local authorities are aware of the situation and they probably cooperate with Dimitris. Hellenic Police, based on an anonymous information since 1 year ago from Kuros’ case and after a long lasting investigation and by using technical means, without any cooperation with the local authorities in Pyrgos, as well as EUROPOL and INTERPOL, are currently disrupting the above transnational criminal network. This cross-border police operation named “Blood Strawberries” leads to the arrest of Dimitris, Asterios and some other members of the smuggling network while Emre is arrested by the local authorities in Ikaria island. All coerced workers released and assisted by Hellenic authorities and NGOs. An international arrest warrant is now published through INTERPOL for Mehmet in Turkey while actions have started for the withdrawal of the fake job advertisements on Facebook and Instagram. The criminal network manipulated the undergound banking system ‘Hawala’ and remittance companies to transfer the illicit proceeds. The “Blood Strawberries” is a forced labour case attracted wide publicity in national and international press. All the arrested members in Greece are prosecuted and their sentence according to judicial sources is gonna be 10 years in jail.