Tuesday

1st Dec 2020

Opinion

Charging father for death of refugee son is attack on asylum

  • The father's lawyer - Dimitris Choulis - outside the Greek court (Photo: NGO Help Refugees/Choose Love)

In the early hours of last Sunday morning (8 November), having set off from Turkey, a boat carrying 25 people, including families and unaccompanied children, got into distress off the Greek island of Samos.

The Hellenic Coastguard had been notified that the boat was in distress, but it reportedly took 6 hours and 40 minutes until rescue came.

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  • The refugee camp on the Greek island of Samos (Photo: Louisa Waugh)

By the time the group reached the shore, one of them - Yahya, a boy from Afghanistan just six-years old - had died.

In the aftermath of this tragedy, two men were arrested.

One was the 23-year-old driver of the boat; the other, Nadir, the 25-year-old father of the dead boy. They appeared in court on Thursday (12 November), the latter having been charged with endangering his child resulting in death. If he is found guilty, he faces 10 years in prison.

It took two days for the father to receive permission to see his son's body, while being handcuffed.

These charges are an attack on the right of people to seek asylum. The frustration and anger that ought to be directed towards the conditions and policies that force people out of desperation to risk their lives have instead been levelled at the person who has lost the most.

In fact, these charges betray the itchings and prickings of a guilty conscience, and the urgent need to find someone else to blame. Why did it take so long for the rescue to take place?

The criminalisation of people seeking safety and protection in Europe reflects the abject failure of the Union to protect people who are so desperate, they are willing to risk their own and their family's lives to make a dangerous journey to seek safety in Europe.

The fact is this: no one, let alone a child, should lose their life in search of safety. The tragedy that took place last on Sunday was not a one-off.

It was not an unfortunate tragedy. It was the unavoidable outcome of a policy that puts politics before people. Thousands of people continue to put their lives at risk to make their way to Europe on boats, forced by necessity to rely on smugglers and criminal organisations for transportation.

According to the UN refugee agency UNHCR, children account for 29 percent of the migrant, refugee and asylum-seeking population on the Greek islands, the vast majority of whom are under 12 years old.

It is inevitable, given the perils involved in making such a journey, that many will lose their lives.

Perhaps Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) put it most succinctly when they said that "it's 2020 and people continue to die at European borders in search of safety."

If EU policy was put in place to prevent this happening, then we can see that it has categorically failed. The latest proof of this is the lifeless body of a six-year-old Afghan boy, and the unjust and compassionless treatment of his father, who is being scapegoated for the fatal shortcomings of policy.

Tragedies like this one can be avoided. All the evidence suggests that the absence of legal routes of migration simply drives vulnerable people into the hands of the people-traffickers and the smugglers.

At the heart of a new European migration policy - one that is rights-based, dignified and humane - must be the establishment of safe and lawful routes to protection and the upholding of the rule of law regarding sea rescue.

The current emphasis on securitisation and externalisation is having deadly consequences.

There has been enough cause for distress and pain this year.

We do not need to add to it by keeping in place policy that has resulted in so many unnecessary deaths that we are at risk of becoming desensitised. It's time for the European Union to rethink how it deals with migration and treats refugees and asylum-seekers.

As it is, a father awaits sentencing for the death of his son.

Author bio

Josie Naughton is the CEO of Help Refugees/Choose Love.

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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