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Afghan Jailed on Lesbos for Helping Refugees Cleared, Released

MYTILENE – An Afghan refugee who had been in jail for two years on the island of Lesbos escaped the rest of a 50-year sentence on charges of aiding refugees and migrants get into Greece when an appeals court ordered him released.’

Akif Rasuli said he had wrongfully been imprisoned on charges of “facilitating the entry” of undocumented migrants. “I always said I was innocent and they finally believed me,” reported the British newspaper The Guardian.

The three-member tribunal overturned the conviction citing lack of evidence as human rights groups protested that Greece has been pushing back refugees and migrants and going after those trying to aid them.

“I am very happy, very but right now my thoughts are with all the others, so many people like me, who are also in prison in Greece,” said Rasuli with another Afghan, Amir Zahiri, accused of the same crime having his sentence cut from 50 to eight years but also expected to be released, the paper said. He was traveling with his young daughter and pregnant wife.

The men, both in their 20s, had been on the same vessel when it was abandoned in September 2020 as it crossed the Aegean from Turkey, which allows human smugglers to keep sending them.

That’s in violation of an essentially-suspended 2016 swap deal with the European Union that has seen Turkey not being sanctioned even while accusing Greece of pushbacks of refugees and migrants it allowed smugglers to keep sending.

The case was watched closely by Members of the European Parliament and human rights lawyers who flew to the island, the most favored destination for refugees and migrants, and who hoped the release would aid other asylum seekers.

“We will be raising this case as an example of what is happening to thousands of other innocent migrants cruelly languishing in prison,” said Clare Daly, an Irish MEP with the Independents 4 Change party.

“And we will use it to highlight the ludicrous situation that is prevailing in Greece as a result of the manner in which the EU Facilitators package is being enacted,” she added, the paper said.

That was in reference to Greek laws aimed at smugglers but which has been used against NGO’s and others trying to rescue refugees and migrants at sea, scores having drowned since 2015 when they began coming.

She said the law was wrongly being used by law enforcement to go after refugees and migrants and not the smugglers as the New Democracy government said it would try to keep out any more asylum seekers from entering.

“This ambiguity, long highlighted by the European Parliament, cannot continue. The (European) Commission cannot continue to stand idly by while Greece implements it in this way,” she said, although the government has denied other accusations of pushbacks.

“If, like Amir, you admit even touching the helm of a boat, even if it’s abandoned by smugglers, the sentence is very tough,” Alexandros Georgoulis, a lawyer who specializes in assisting refugees and represented Zahiri told the paper.

“It’s so unfair when all you have done is try to help your family and it is very probable that others (passengers not singled out) have been at the helm too. But the law, as it stands, is problematic and that is why our jails now are so full of these people,” he said of the law.

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