Human rights defenders criticize Greece for criminalizing migrants and harassing NGOs

Among the prisoners of the Greek island of Chios, three young men from Afghanistan and Somalia are serving huge sentences: 50 years for two and a staggering 142 years for a third. AssociatedPress

But these are not violent criminals, even by court order. They were convicted of driving inflatable boats they shared with other migrants after they said they were abandoned by smugglers in the Aegean Sea between Turkey and Greece.

β€œI didn’t think saving people was a crime,” said Khanad Abdi Mohammad, 28, a quiet Somali citizen accused of smuggling after arriving in Greece last December and sentenced to 142 years in prison.

Mohammad told reporters and members of the European Parliament who visited the three inmates last week that he had no choice but to navigate the boat. The smuggler forced him to take charge by hitting him in the face and threatening him with a pistol before throwing the boat into the stormy sea. The lives of people were at stake. Even in hindsight, he did not think to leave them: “I would do it again to save lives.”

Critics say the men’s cases, as well as harassment or threats of criminal charges against humanitarian workers, illustrate the growing arsenal of methods used by the Greek and international authorities to deter asylum seekers.

β€œIt is not possible that someone who comes to Greece seeking asylum would face such harsh sentences simply because they were forced, due to circumstances or pressure, to take over the boat,” said Alexandros Georgulis, one of the lawyers representing three prisoners in Chios.

Turkish ship with nearly 400 illegal immigrants, arrived in Greece in October 2021.

According to him, the Greek authorities “are judging the carriers as smugglers.” Mohammed’s journey is also a clear testament to the chaos that asylum seekers can face as they migrate between two countries long separated by deep-seated mistrust.

Fearing for their lives after the smuggler fled, nearly three dozen panicked passengers abandoned their plans to reach Greece. Mohammed says he repeatedly called the Turkish coast guard, begging for help. But when he arrived, a Turkish patrol boat sharply rounded the migrants’ vessel, sending a wave onto the boat and gradually pushing it towards Greece. In the chaos, two women fell overboard and drowned.

The Greek Coast Guard rescued the survivors, while Mohammed helped other passengers board a rescue boat. He admitted that he was driving the boat after the smuggler left. It did not occur to him that he could be prosecuted as a smuggler.

Aid workers and volunteers were also targeted by the Greek authorities. In one highly publicized case, Syrian human rights defender Sara Mardini, herself a refugee, and volunteer Sean Binder were arrested and detained for several months in 2018 on suspicion of espionage, money laundering and a number of other crimes. They deny all charges and say that they only helped save people.

It’s not just Greece. Germany, Italy, Malta, the Netherlands, Spain and Greece have initiated 58 investigations and lawsuits against individuals involved in search and rescue operations since 2016, according to the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights.

PS It should be noted that AssociatedPress in his publication did not mention almost 200 Ukrainians and Russians convicted under the same article – for transporting illegal immigrants. Moreover, many of them also became victims of deception from the side of smugglers or were subjected to pressure, to the point that their relatives were taken hostage.

On the other hand, the NGOs mentioned by the American agency were convicted not only of transporting migrants for a substantial fee, but also of espionage for Turkey, as well as of close ties with smugglers.

But about this, and about many other facts that represent NGOs in an unfavorable light, the Associated Press prefers to remain silent. Freedom of speech is so different …

PPS What about Lukashenka? Isn’t there the same migrants, or is it different?

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