4th Feb 2023

Greece seeking possible jail for aid workers in flawed case

  • Aid workers who rescued people from drowning are facing possible lengthy prison sentences in Greece (Photo: Proactiva Open Arms)
Listen to article

A Greek trial on Tuesday (10 January) against 24 humanitarian aid workers who helped prevent refugees and asylum seekers from drowning has been postponed until later this week.

A court in Athens is instead set to hear procedural objections from the defendants lawyers on Friday, according to the Greek-based legal aid NGO, Fenix.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

"The prosecution has made mistake after mistake, they've violated our human rights," said Sean Binder, one of the defendants, on Tuesday following the court hearing.

"We'll find out on Friday whether we get the rule of law or the rule of flaws," he said.

The case, which has been dragging on for years, has been described by civil society as part of a wider criminalisation of humanitarian relief, following a similar crackdown on charitable search and rescue operations in Italy and elsewhere.

Some 24 are facing trial in Mytilene, on the island of Lesbos, on misdemeanour charges related to Emergency Response Center International (ERCI), a registered NGO that had in the past assisted the Greek Coast Guard in rescue operations.

Three of the defendants, Sarah Mardini, Sean Binder and Nassos Karakitsos, are also standing trial for espionage and forgery, which can carry up to eight years in prison.

They are also facing another ongoing investigation over people smuggling, fraud, membership of a criminal organisation, and money laundering, which carry a maximum sentence of 20 years.

A Syrian refugee, Mardini is the sister of the Olympic swimmer Yusra Mardini.

The Syrian duo saved 18 fellow passengers by pulling a sinking boat, which had left Turkey towards Greece, to safety in 2015.

Mardini, who received refugee status in Germany, then returned to Lesbos in 2016 to help other refugees arriving on the island.

She was arrested in 2018, along with Greek national Nassos Karakitsos and German national Sean Binder, who had been coordinating search and rescues on Lesbos.

"Often times I did little more than offer a smile to people in distress because the vast majority of asylum seekers are survivors," he said late last year at a European Parliament press conference.

"But at times, we did have to help folks at the risk of drowning during their treacherous journeys and for these efforts I spent over three and half months in pre-trial prison," he said.

Binder, who attended the Athens court on Tuesday, also said that the prosecution's case is riddled with errors.

He said some of the defendants did not receive indictments and that other indictments either had missing papers or failed to state alleged offences.

Others still were not allowed to go to their own trial in a case that has been dragging on for years "so that prosecution is effectively a form of persecution," he said.

This includes Sarah Mardini, who was unable to attend her trial in the past, given a Greek imposed travel ban that prevents her from entering the country.

Similar comments were made by Human Rights Watch, an NGO.

They said that indictments sent to the accused included numerous charges.

But the indictments left defendants guessing because they were listed from 1 to 24 with no explanation of whom each number represents.

In a statement, Bill Van Esveld, associate children's rights director at Human Rights Watch, said that "the case is really an indictment of the Greek authorities, who are going after people for saving lives the authorities didn't want them to save."

The trial against the 24 humanitarian workers had been previously adjourned in November 2021 after the prosecution had filed the case before the wrong court.

People helping migrants 'increasingly persecuted in EU'

A new report has found a dramatic increase in the number of criminal and administrative cases against people who help migrants. The report comes as a number of sea-rescue activists face up to 25 years in prison in Greece.

On board with SOS Méditerranée

The migration 'pull-factor' claim - debunked

Empirical evidence shows rescue operations at sea are not a pull-factor. But that suspicion has underpinned a campaign to criminalise NGO actions. Eight legal cases were launched this year alone, bringing the total caseload to 58.

EU Commission wants drones for Bulgaria on Turkey border

The European Commission wants to shore up the land border between Bulgaria and Turkey with drones. "We can strengthen the border with management capabilities," European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen told MEPs.

Latest News

  1. Greece faces possible court over 'prison-like' EU-funded migration centres
  2. How the centre-right can take on hard-right and win big in 2024
  3. Top EU officials show Ukraine solidarity on risky trip
  4. MEPs launch anonymous drop-box for shady lobbying secrets
  5. Hawkish ECB rate-rise 'puts energy transition at risk'
  6. MEPs push for greater powers for workers' councils
  7. How Pavel won big as new Czech president — and why it matters
  8. French official to take on Islamophobia in EU

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Party of the European LeftJOB ALERT - Seeking a Communications Manager (FT) for our Brussels office!
  2. European Parliamentary Forum for Sexual & Reproductive Rights (EPF)Launch of the EPF Contraception Policy Atlas Europe 2023. 8th February. Register now.
  3. Europan Patent OfficeHydrogen patents for a clean energy future: A global trend analysis of innovation along hydrogen value chains
  4. Forum EuropeConnecting the World from the Skies calls for global cooperation in NTN rollout
  5. EFBWWCouncil issues disappointing position ignoring the threats posed by asbestos
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersLarge Nordic youth delegation at COP15 biodiversity summit in Montreal

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersCOP27: Food systems transformation for climate action
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic Region and the African Union urge the COP27 to talk about gender equality
  3. Friedrich Naumann Foundation European DialogueGender x Geopolitics: Shaping an Inclusive Foreign Security Policy for Europe
  4. Obama FoundationThe Obama Foundation Opens Applications for its Leaders Program in Europe
  5. EFBWW – EFBH – FETBBA lot more needs to be done to better protect construction workers from asbestos
  6. European Committee of the RegionsRe-Watch EURegions Week 2022

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us