Greece: justice overturns controversial procedure against aid workers who rescue migrants

LA Greek court on Friday overturned “espionage” charges against 24 aid workers on the island of Lesbos, halting a controversial trial condemning the criminalization of migrant aid volunteers by the UN and NGOs.

The court in the capital of this Greek island in the Aegean Sea, Mythos, said that it accepted the decision because of procedural defects, especially the lack of translation of the indictment intended for the arrested foreigners.

All are former volunteers who helped migrants on Lesvos, one of the main entry points for refugees into Europe, which has seen hundreds of thousands of people flock to its shores since 2015, particularly fleeing conflicts in the Middle East.

However, a separate case targeting these aid workers for migrant smuggling, money laundering and fraud is still ongoing in Greece.

“That’s not justice! Justice would have been a conviction four years ago where we would have been acquitted (…) it’s just a procedural error,” Sean reacted. Binder, one of the prime suspects, on the steps of the courthouse.

Other defendants include Sarah Mardini, a young Syrian who inspired a Netflix feature with her sister, Yusra, an Olympic swimmer. After traveling from Damascus to Germany with her sister in 2015, she returned to Greece as a refugee in Berlin, volunteering at ERCI NGO.

He was arrested in 2018 and spent three months in prison before being released on bail. He was not in court on Friday and was unable to attend the opening of the trial in November 2021 due to an entry ban in Greece.

is disturbing

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights had previously asked the Greek judiciary to drop all charges against the aid workers.

Elizabeth Throssell, a spokeswoman for the High Commission, said on Friday: “This kind of testing is really worrying because it criminalises life-saving actions and sets a dangerous precedent.”

This trial was presented by the European Parliament as “the biggest case of criminalization of solidarity in Europe”. Amnesty International called it a “farce”.

After the verdict, the NGO called for an end to all criminal cases that are still ongoing and for which these humanitarian workers risk up to 25 years in prison.

The court “recognized errors in a procedure that should never have happened,” Amnesty’s Greek director, Glykeria Arapi, assured AFP.

The defendants have received the support of many human rights organizations as well as European parliamentarians by attending hearings or showing signs of support in front of the court.

“We are very fortunate to have international support,” said Sean Binder. “This forced the prosecutor to at least recognize the mistakes made in the process.”

The non-governmental organization Human Rights Watch (HWR) criticized the prosecution based on police reports containing factual errors, including “allegations that some of the defendants participated in rescue operations on dates they were not even in Greece. “.

Hostile environment

In Strasbourg, the European Council assessed the “hostile environment” in which human rights defenders work in Greece as “a matter of concern for several years”.

“I call on the Greek authorities to ensure that human rights defenders can work in full safety and freedom,” said UN Human Rights Commissioner Dunya Mijatovic.

This procedure, launched in 2018, has led to the suspension of activities at sea by NGOs that rescue most migrants in Greece, accused of illegal pushbacks on its border with neighboring Turkey.

13/01/2023 20:45:33 – Mytilene (Greece) (AFP) – © 2023 AFP

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