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Greece: NGO employees might face jail for serving to migrants | Europe | Information and present affairs from across the continent | DW

When Sean Binder and Sarah Mardini have been arrested and put in jail on the Greek island of Lesbos in February 2018, the police report referred to them as “No. 7” and “No. 8.”

“I’m truly undecided if I’m seven or eight, nevertheless it was me and Sara within the police automobile that day, so I’m undoubtedly considered one of them,” mentioned 27-year-old Binder, an Irish nationwide. Uncertainty has been his fixed companion over the previous three years. He nonetheless would not perceive why he and Mardini are going through severe legal prices reminiscent of folks smuggling, membership of a legal group and espionage. So far as he’s involved, they simply got here to Lesbos to forestall folks from drowning at sea.

Refugee activist Sean Binder (l.) with his lawyers before his trial in Greece

Sean Binder’s attorneys say the trial in opposition to Binder is a joke

On the time of their arrest, dozens of rubber dinghies have been arriving on Greece’s third greatest island daily. These dinghies introduced refugees from Turkey to the shores of the European Union, a spot the place they hoped their human rights can be revered.

For Binder, serving to folks isn’t a heroic act, it is merely widespread sense: “What would you do when you see any individual within the water and they’re reaching a hand out to carry you. You’d clearly put a hand out and pull them in. As quickly as you’ve carried out so, you’ve dedicated the identical crime as I’ve dedicated,” he mentioned.

‘Simply individuals who wished to assist different folks’

Binder and Mardini have been working for the NGO Emergency Response Middle Worldwide (ERCI). Their coordinator on the time was Nassos Karakitsos from Athens, who had beforehand served within the Greek navy. 40-year-old Karakitsos mentioned he values human life above all else and didn’t wish to simply stand by whereas individuals who have been looking for worldwide safety have been liable to drowning within the Aegean: “We’re simply individuals who wished to assist different folks. And there have been hundreds like us in Lesbos, Samos and Chios,” he informed DW.

Nassos Karakitsos, coordinator of the NGO Emergency Response Center International (ERCI) from Athens

Nassos Karakitsos says: We all the time labored intently with the authorities

The trial of Binder and Mardini and 21 different volunteers was adjourned on account of procedural errors shortly after it opened.

The defendants reject accusations that they acted outdoors the authorized framework: “We had day by day communication with the Coast Guard,” mentioned Karakitsos. They used WhatsApp to maintain one another knowledgeable, the identical messenger service that the Greek authorities are actually attempting to make use of as proof in opposition to them, claiming that they used encrypted messages to facilitate irregular immigration. “The Coast Guard referred to as me many instances to help them in rescue missions, not simply refugees, but additionally locals,” he provides. “We have been cooperating on many ranges.”

‘Baseless’ case in opposition to activists

Zacharias Kesses can not conceal his grin behind his face masks as he defined the trial in his workplace in Athens. Kesses, who’s representing Binder and Mardini, is completely sure that the prosecutor has no case in opposition to his purchasers. “The case is completely baseless, there isn’t a authorized foundation, there isn’t a proof, there may be nothing aside from police hypothesis on the case,” he mentioned, happening to elucidate how the authorities singled out sure people from a WhatsApp-group that included 446 folks and organizations — together with the UNHCR, the UN Refugee Company — in an effort to coordinate the rescue mission.

Refugee activists help migrants to enter a boat in the sea nearby the Greek island of Lesbos

The NGO ERCI carried out a whole lot of rescue missions in Lesbos

It’s alleged that his purchasers knew about incoming boats and didn’t inform the authorities. However Kesses is adamant that these allegations are totally fabricated. He says that the details about incoming boats got here from open sources and was out there to everyone. “These folks weren’t receiving secret info that they have been hiding from the police. Now we have submitted strong proof that the NGO ERCI, which Sean, Sara and Nassos labored for, was in direct cooperation with the port police. Every time that they had info, they knowledgeable the port police, in an effort to unite the forces.”

Authorized limbo for 3 years

For Kesses, the accusations in opposition to his purchasers represent judicial harassment. Furthermore, as a result of the investigation remains to be ongoing, his purchasers have been left in a authorized limbo for 3 years: “Since December 2018, nothing has been carried out. The case is in a file someplace within the workplace of the investigator. Every year, the investigator has been changed. No person is prepared to tackle this large case.” The Greek judicial system has a fame for being sluggish, however this time it is completely different: “This does not often occur in such high-profile instances. We’re talking right here about human trafficking — the heaviest felony in Greece, even heavier than drug trafficking or rape.”

Refugee helpers Sean Binder and Nassos Karakitsos on the Greek island of Lesbos

Sean Binder and Nassos Karakitsos working collectively on Lesbos

Kesses is satisfied that his purchasers will stroll free: “I’m certain that each one of those instances are going to be acquitted. However there’s a large hole, and inside this hole, judicial harassment finds house to unfold. I belief the system in Greece, however within the meantime, the injury is completed.”

Great private value

The uncertainty surrounding the end result of the case has been a supply of nice misery for the defendants. For Binder, a legislation scholar, it’s exhausting to sum up the impression it has had on their lives over the previous three years: “The load that we face, the great private value, monetary value, skilled value, psychological value of being in limbo for this lengthy and having these prices over our heads, it has been big.”

In view of all this, Binder is contemplating taking authorized motion in opposition to the state of Greece: “Irrespective of the way you take a look at this, each facet of this prosecution is so deeply flawed and so ridiculous, it’s an abuse of our human rights.”

Nassos Karakitsos, the NGO coordinator, has bother sleeping and concentrating: “It is like being in poor health and ready to die,” he mentioned. Karakitsos is finding out for a BA in European Tradition. If all goes nicely, he hopes to graduate subsequent yr. The concept of the European Union — equality and human rights for everyone — is ideal, he mentioned. But the case made in opposition to himself, Binder and Mardini tells a really completely different story.

Mardini, a 26-year-old refugee from Syria, lives in Germany. Her title is on an inventory of undesirable people in Greece. She was deemed a risk to public security and was barred from re-entering the nation. She appealed to have the ban lifted in order that she might attend the trial in individual, however her attraction was rejected by an administrative court docket in Athens.

Deterrence and discrimination

Human rights organizations are deeply involved about what they see as a development in Europe in the direction of criminalizing establishments and people who’re dedicated to the rights of asylum seekers and migrants. They are saying that instances just like the one involving Binder, Mardini and Karakitsos are supposed to unfold concern amongst those that wish to assist refugees.

Giorgos Kosmopoulos of Amnesty Worldwide mentioned that humanitarian support decreases with a lack of transparency: “It is essential to have eyes on the bottom to inform us what is going on. And it is clear, now in Lesbos there are fewer and fewer impartial voices which can be capable of report from the humanitarian aspect.”

Edited by: Aingeal Flanagan and Rüdiger Rossig.

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