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Letter from Athens: Greece Needs to Keep Out Real Criminals, Not Refugees

January 21, 2023

While you were snug at home, watching a football game or your favorite TV show in the United States in December, 2020 – while the coronavirus was raging – Hanad Abdi Mohammad was trying to save the lives of 31 refugees off the coast of Lesbos.

He grabbed the wheel of a boat abandoned by a Turkish human smuggler, scared in a cold, dark winter night but determined to live and save the others on the craft – the act of taking the wheel leading him to be prosecuted.

Greece doesn’t act against Turkey allowing human smugglers to keep sending people to Greek islands during an essentially-suspended 2016 swap deal with the European Union, so refugees are an easy target.

Mohammad was sentenced to 142 years in jail as Greece was going after human rights activists and rescuers for saving people in the Aegean, while the New Democracy government has proclaimed, a bit too loudly, that it’s not pushing people back.

“I still have nightmares about that night,” Mohammad said from prison, saving all but two people on the boat, and said he had no regrets, although prosecutors and ministers and government officials should. “If I hadn’t done it, we’d all be dead…”

After embarrassing international pressure against the ruling New Democracy, an appeals court ordered his release, putting the kind of spotlight on cowardly, despicable actions to make him and refugees scapegoats that should have been used to help find people floating in the water off Greek islands.

Greece has no problem prosecuting people bobbing for their lives or grabbing the wheel of a boat that would have sunk at the same time opening its doors and arms of welcome to rich foreigners who can buy residency permits and Golden Visas.

That program, said the EU – a similar scheme ended in disgrace in Cyprus in 2020 – was subject to being used by money launders and criminals, unclear whether that was being thoroughly vetted to find out in the rush for revenues.

The government persists in the sham that refugees and the people who save them are criminals while doing nothing about rotten corruption in its own ranks, nor investigating a former lawmaker, Andreas Patsis, who can’t explain his wealth.

Ex-U.S. President Psycho, who wanted to keep out Mexicans with a giant fence, would have loved the anti-refugee wall that’s being extended on Greece’s northern border along the Evros River to keep out people who want food, shelter, and hope.

It will be 160 kilometers (99.4 miles) long, 16 feet high, made of steel columns and topped with razor wire and an anti-grip metal scaling barrier designed to stop refugees from entering. Where’s the machine gun nests aimed at children?

A country has a right to control its borders, but where’s the wall against corruption and rich criminals and embezzlers and public officials who have their hands in the till while they think no one’s looking?

Greece has a wall against refugees but open doors for rich foreigners who can spread money around, and it’s a surprise they aren’t greeted at the airport by a band playing “Money, That’s What We Want!”

Mohammad’s trial was attended by several members of the European Parliament who said he was wrongfully convicted, and it didn’t take long to put him in the dock while real criminals can stay home and wait a decade or more to appear in court.

“It’s a very important decision because many ordinary migrants are being treated like smugglers,″ EU lawmaker Stelios Kouloglou told the Associated Press, although his opinion is dismissed because he represents the otherwise Looney Left SYRIZA in Brussels. But he is a journalist and documentary maker too.

Two Afghan men, Akif Razouli and Amir Zahiri, who had received 50-year jail sentences, were released from prison on appeal in another case but innocent people trying to reach Greece don’t know the real sharks are on the land.

The insanity of prosecuting refugees is still going on, prosecutors putting on trial 24 people – 17 foreigners and seven Greeks – for the crime of saving people at sea, which apparently made them human smugglers instead of heroes. All that’s missing at their trial on the island is a kangaroo.

There weren’t any prosecutors, ministers, or politicians around to help people who would have sunk – many did anyway – so Greece went after the likes of Sarah Mardini and her sister Yusra, competitive swimmers on a boat like Mohammad, who saved people too.

Their story was made into a Netflix movie, which is available in Greece, with Greek subtitles but apparently not watched by anyone in the government or the prosecutor’s office.
Mardini and the others accused, including rescue diver Sean Diver, should be at Maximos Mansion getting awards instead of being tried. She’s lucky because she’s out of the country but the others aren’t.

“Trials like this are deeply concerning because they criminalize life-saving work and set a dangerous precedent,” the UN Human Rights office said, noting that the damage has been done, with other rescuers leaving Greece.

So here’s a challenge to anyone who thinks what these people did is a crime: take your yacht off Lesbos, put down the champagne glass, and watch people sinking in a rickety little boat. We know what you’d do. Let them drown.

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