Criminalization efforts in Greece continue: two migrants have to appear in front of the court in Kalamata, Greece, on 19 May 2022. Shortly after the trials against the Paros 3 and the Samos 2, two more people face trial in Greece. Over a year ago, in the evening hours of 3 May 2021, a group of around 180 people was brought to the Greek port of Kalamata after spending seven days at sea. On arrival, several people were arrested and accused of smuggling. Two of the accused have been imprisoned since the arrest and face trial next week. This is yet another story that shows the systematic attacks on people’s freedom by the Greek state.
Ibrahim*, a Syrian man and one of the accused in Kalamata, defends himself with clear words against the accusation: “No, I did not try to repair the engine as I don’t know how to do it. I was not driving the boat. I got the money for the trip from my sons and friends. I spend six years in Turkey. My children are all boys and grown up, I did not want them to go to war and get killed. In Syria, I was a builder.”
When the group of 180 was at sea, they reached out to the Alarm Phone when the boat’s motor stopped working. They were stuck in Greek waters on their way to Italy and had run out of water and food. For several days, however, the people refused help from the Greek Coast Guard as they were afraid of what would await them in Greece. They reported the following:
“The Greek Coast Guard—you will be shocked about the story you will hear about their aggression and inhumanity. Some people from our group were caught by them earlier, about two weeks ago. They tied them up with cable ties and threw them in the water, just like that. You might not believe this, but there are people with me here who can tell you the same story. We refuse any help from Greece, because they will torture us, they always play games on us.”
This fear was justified; several among the group had previously been pushed back and brutalized by the Hellenic Coast Guard, and several passengers said they would prefer to die at sea than to enter into the hands of the Hellenic Coast Guard again.
For Ibrahim, it was neither his first trip nor his first traumatizing experience with Greek authorities. “I still feel dizzy from the previous boat trip and I can not see well, especially with my left eye,” he recounted. “Four to five months ago, I had first tried to travel [to Europe] but they pushed us back. I had no life vest. Only a few passengers had one. We seriously risked drowning.”
Until today, these systematic pushbacks and attacks against people on the move continue to happen, while the ones who are responsible for these crimes face no retribution.
On the contrary, Greek authorities systematically criminalize people on the move. For most boats that arrive in Greece, several people are arrested and afterwards legally prosecuted for steering the boat or for helping in other ways during the journey. The trials are often over very quickly, with decisions reached in a short time, and the sentences are draconic. Without sufficient evidence, people are usually arrested upon arrival and kept in pre-trial detention for months. When their case finally comes to court, their trials average only 38 minutes in length, leading to an average sentence of 44 years and fines of over 370.000 euro.
To us, it is clear: boat driving and crossing borders is never a crime. It’s a fundamental right and one we will continue to uphold and support. The real crime is the border regime put in place by the EU and its partners along the different migration routes.
- All charges against the accused to be dropped;
- Freedom for all those imprisoned for “boat driving” despite the fact that there is no alternative to reach the European Union;
- An end to the criminalization of migration and the incarceration of people on the move.
*Name changed for security reasons