ATHENS – Sarah Mardini, a Syrian refugee and swimmer whose experiences inspired a Netflix film, and a rescue diver, Seán Binder will go on trial in Greece Jan. 10 on charges of helping refugees who faced risk of drowning in the sea trying to reach the country.
Amnesty International said that Greece’s New Democracy government, which is desperately trying to keep up refugees and migrants and charging groups helping them with aiding human smuggling, should drop the charges.
The two are being charged along with 22 others from a search-and-rescue non-governmental organization (NGO) they volunteered to work with, the government indicating that rescuing people at sea trying to reach Greek islands was unlawful.
Turkey is allowing human traffickers to keep sending refugees and migrants to Greece during an essentially-suspended 2016 swap deal with the European Union under which they are supposed to be detained in Turkey.
Some 4.4 million are being held in Turkey, going there after fleeing war, strife and economic hardship in their homelands, especially Syria and Afghanistan but Turkey hasn’t been sanctioned by the EU for allowing traffickers to operate.
Instead of being lauded for rescuing people at sea, those charged are being called criminals at the same time that Greece’s government has denied unlawful pushbacks of refugees and migrants in the Aegean.
“If I can be criminalized for mostly doing little more than handing out bottles of water and smiles, then so can anyone. This trial is not about me and Sara, or even the 22 other defendants. This trial is about the Greek authorities trying to crush compassion and prevent people from seeking safety. But I trust that justice will prevail and we will be able to get on with our lives,” said Binder.
Nils Muižnieks, Director of Amnesty International’s European Regional Office, said: “Sarah and Seán 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.”
He added that, “This trial reveals how the Greek authorities will go to extreme lengths to deter humanitarian assistance and discourage migrants and refugees from seeking safety on the country’s shores, something which we see in a number of European countries. It is farcical that this trial is even taking place. All charges against the rescuers must be dropped without delay.”
Binder and Mardini were arrested in August 2018, they spent more than 100 days in prison before being released on bail. The upcoming trial relates to misdemeanor charges, including espionage and forgery, which can carry up to eight years in prison, the report said of the gravity.
They are also facing another ongoing investigation over what Amnesty said were baseless charges of people smuggling, fraud, membership of a criminal organization, and money laundering, which carry a maximum sentence of 20 years.
Mardini arrived on the Greek island of Lesbos as a refugee in 2015. After the engine failed on the boat she was traveling on, Sarah and her sister Yusra saved 18 fellow passengers by pulling the sinking boat to safety. Yusra went on to swim for Team Refugees in the Olympics.
Sarah returned to Greece in 2016 and went on to volunteer at a Greek search and rescue organization, where she met Binder and she now lives and studies in Berlin while Binder, a German citizen raised in Ireland, he lives in London.