A group of 24 aid workers and vounteers who participated in migrant rescue operations on an eastern Greek island will be facing prosecution at the Greek court on the charges of smuggling-related crime.
The court's decision to hear the prosecution case against the defendants, who deny all charges and claim they did nothing but help rescue people in danger, has been widely criticised by international human rights groups.
The aid workers include prominent Syrian human rights worker Sarah Mardini, a refugee herself and a competitive swimmer Sarah Mardini. Her sister Yusra Mardini was part of the refugee swimming team at the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro in 2016 and Tokyo in 2021. The sister duo inpired the Netflix to make a story on their life 'The Swimmers'.
After their arrest in 2018 arrest on misdemeanour charges includeing espionage, forgery and unlawful use of radio frequencies, Sarah, who was not present for Tuesday's hearing, and fellow volunteer Sean Binder spent more than three months in jail in Lesbos.
Initially set to proceed in 2021, the case was postponed over procedural issues. Both Sarah and Sean are also under investigation for felonies, however, no such charges have yet been brought.
Binder said, “What is on trial today is human rights. That is the fundamental problem. We are desperate to go to trial because what we did was legal, and we need the judge to acknowledge that we need to get through this, because until then, there is a shadow of doubt, not over me alone, but over anybody who does search and rescue."
Amnesty International described the case against the aid workers as “farcical” and called on Greek authorities to drop the charges.
“Sarah and Sean did what any of us should do if we were in their position. Helping people at risk of drowning in one of the deadliest sea routes in Europe and assisting them on the shoreline is not a crime,” Nils Muiznieks, director of Amnesty's European Regional Office, said in a statement ahead of Tuesday's hearing.
Muiznieks also said thaat this trial reveals how far the Greek authorities will go in order to deter humanitarian assistance and discourage migrants and refugees from seeking safety on the country's shores. He also compared the country's approach with a number of European countries.
“It is farcical that this trial is even taking place," he said.
During the extreme heights of the refugee crisis in the year 2015, around a million refugees crossed to Greece's shores from nearby Turkey. The country has since erected a fence along much of its Turkey land border and enhanced sea patrols near islands to clamp the migration and retstrict refugees from seeking shelter. While the Greek officials claim to have a strict but fair migration policy, they also deny conducting "pushbacks", a procedure for illegal summary deportations of refugees arriving on the Greek territories without as much as allowing them to apply for asylum.
Greece, which saw around a million migrants and refugees cross to its shores from nearby Turkey at the height of the refugee crisis in 2015, has clamped down on migration, erecting a fence along much of its land border with Turkey and increasing sea patrols near its islands. Greek officials say they have a strict but fair migration policy. They also deny, despite increasing evidence to the contrary, conducting illegal summary deportations of people arriving on Greek territory without allowing them to apply for asylum, a procedure known as “pushbacks”.
(With AP inputs)