An Egyptian fisherman who rescued refugees by navigating a boat in rough waters was sentenced to 280 years in prison in Greece for human smuggling, a punishment far harsher than those given to Greek officials convicted of serious crimes.
The man, identified only as H Elfallah, was reportedly accompanied by his 15-year-old son aboard a dilapidated former fishing vessel carrying 500 migrants as they made their way across the Mediterranean in November 2022.
According to Middle East Monitor, the man and his son were hoping to reach Greece in order to continue their journey to the United Kingdom, where the man’s other son is applying for asylum. Greece has been trying to keep out refugees and migrants while granting Golden Visas to wealthy foreigners, despite the risk of money laundering.
Unable to afford the thousands of euros that human traffickers charge to get people to Greece, “he and his son agreed to do some chores,” said a spokesman for Borderline Europe, as reported by The Telegraph.
Their duties included steering the boat towards the island of Crete, even though most refugees and migrants use Turkey as a starting point and aim to reach five Greek islands near the Turkish coast.
Refugees steering boats is said to be a new tactic used by smugglers to avoid being caught and prosecuted, leaving those on board to be arrested or, as some human rights groups allege, having the boats pushed back, which Greece denies.
After Elfallah and his son were rescued by Greek authorities, along with the vessel’s other passengers, they were then accused of smuggling 476 people. That charge initially meant that the fisherman faced a maximum sentence of 4,760 years under a Greek law introduced in 2014, based on 10 years imprisonment for every migrant he had allegedly helped bring to Europe.
After he was found guilty in a trial, his sentence was reduced to 280 years, which was denounced by human rights groups and activists who said he was chosen to steer because he was skilled at it, not because he was trying to smuggle people.
“We strongly condemn this outrageous criminalization of people on the move,” the Borderline Europe spokesman stated. “How on earth do European authorities expect people to come in a boat without someone piloting it?” they asked.