Greek procedure against sea rescuers: “Purely political process”
Parts of the allegations against refugee helpers are dropped. But they still have to answer for human trafficking.
BERLIN taz | After years of investigation, the Greek judiciary dropped parts of the allegations against 24 refugee helpers on Friday. The court on the island of Lesvos decided not to prosecute for espionage. The reason for the decision was a procedural error. Some of the judicial documents were not translated and were not made accessible to the accused.
However, the helpers still have to answer for human trafficking, money laundering, fraud and the illegal use of radio frequencies – and fear many years in prison. These allegations were referred back to the prosecutor’s office on Friday. It is unclear when the process will continue.
“If things continue like this, it will take another 50 years,” he said the defendant Sean Binder after the trial date in the island’s capital, Mitilini. He hopes that the pending charges will be dealt with quickly. “But it doesn’t look as if that will happen soon.” At the same time, the accused are very happy about the extent of international solidarity that they have experienced. “This has put pressure on the prosecution and the court to acknowledge the mistakes made in the trial. So today, to some degree, there is less injustice. But what we want is justice,” said Binder.
The 28-year-old Irishman joined the Greek NGO International Emergency Response Center as a volunteer in 2017. He had been on the lookout for boats in distress off the Greek island of Lesbos in order to take care of possible shipwrecked people. At that time, hundreds of people drowned in the sea area while crossing from Turkey.
NGOs see the process as politically motivated
In 2018, Binder joined 23 other activists, including the Syrian competitive swimmer Sarah Mardini, arrested. After more than three months in custody, Binder and Martini in December 2018 released on bail.
The human rights organization Amnesty International wrote that it was an “unjust and unfounded prosecution, in which they are faced with very serious allegations which, if found guilty, could lead to 25 years in prison”.
Human rights organizations see the process as purely politically motivated. A report by the European Parliament spoke of the “biggest scandal of criminalizing solidarity in Europe”.
On Friday, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights asked the Greek judiciary to all charges against helpers who support migrants. “This type of process is worrying because it criminalizes actions that save people’s lives and sets a dangerous precedent,” spokeswoman Elizabeth Throssell said on Friday. Saving human life should never be criminalized.
Athens is currently pursuing about 50 humanitarian workers
The trial had already started in November 2021 but had been adjourned due to procedural issues. At the time, the human rights organization Human Rights Watch accused the authorities of delaying the proceedings in order to deter aid organizations from further rescue operations in Greece.
About 50 humanitarian workers are currently being prosecuted in Greece. In Italy, too, activists face penalties for providing assistance to migrants.
Greece’s conservative government, elected in 2019, has promised to make the country “less attractive” for refugees. As part of the strategy, a 40-kilometer border wall with Turkey is to be extended to 80 kilometers. The government relies on the violent deportation of refugees at the sea and land borders. NGOs should be kept as far away as possible.