Samos, Greece – N., a 25-year-old Afghan, is the first asylum seeker ever to be charged in Europe for the death of his child when all he wanted was to provide safety for his child. He faces up to ten years in prison for “endangered the life of his child” by putting him in a refugee boat to Europe.
“This move sets a worrying precedent in criminalizing migrants as it can apply to all families that arrive to Greece”, comments Dimitris Choulis, lawyer of the #Samos2.
N. is on trial together with 23-year-old Afghan Hasan, who was arrested along with him on 8 November 2020. When they fled Turkey via the Aegean Sea, the smuggler soon left the boat and Hasan was left to steer the boat. Based on this, he is accused of smuggling and thus charged with ”transporting 24 third-country nationals into Greek territory without permission”, with the aggravating circumstances of “endangering the lives of 23″ and “causing the death of one” – N.’s son. He faces a life sentence for the death of the child and another 10 years imprisonment for each person transported, amounting to a total of 230 years plus life imprisonment.
More than 70 organizations across Europe have launched the campaign “The real crime is the border regime – Free the #Samos2”, calling for the charges against N. and Hasan to be dropped. They denounce this large-scale criminalization of migrants who, in the absence of legal flight routes, have no choice but to risk their lives on increasingly perilous journeys.
“These arrests cannot be interpreted in any other way than as a systematic attempt to dissuade people from arriving. The authorities know very well that those arrested are refugees themselves. But they turn them into scapegoats for boat tragedies that are in fact the inevitable result of militarized borders,” criticizes Julia Winkler from the organization borderline-europe, which has followed many such cases over the past two years.
Hasan was charged despite other passengers, including N., stating that Hasan simply took the wheel because someone had to.
“No matter how many times you repeat it, it was not the driver’s fault. He is just a migrant and his family was also there, he didn’t do anything wrong, he is not to be blamed. I just ask for this, I want this person to be released,” says N.
“We are just migrants and when the migrants want to come, the smugglers won’t come. They will force the migrants to bring the boat to its destination themselves, whether they know how to drive a boat or not,” states Hasan.
While N.’s case constitutes the first of its kind, the “smuggling” charges brought against Hasan are not an isolated incident. As documented by CPT – Aegean Migrant Solidarity, borderline-europe and Deportation Monitoring Aegean, police routinely arrest one or two persons per arriving boat. According to official numbers by the Greek ministry of justice, asylum seekers convicted of human smuggling accounted for the second-largest category of inmates in Greece.
Arrested immediately upon arrival, most of them have no access to proper legal assistance, let alone external support. Since Greek law has particularly draconian penalties for smuggling, this results in people who came to Europe in search of safety being punished more severely than murderers and ending up behind bars for decades.