Iraqi asylum seeker facing more than 60 years for “boat driving” despite video proving otherwise

Joint statement by Legal Centre Lesvos, borderline-europe, Can't Evict Solidarity and Aegean Migrant Solidarity

On 05 December 2022, after more than 2,5 years of waiting, the trial of A.B. will take place in Mytilene, Lesvos. Despite video evidence to the contrary, A.B. was singled out by the authorities and accused of steering the boat in which he and 28 others arrived in Greece.

A.B. arrived in Lesvos from Turkey on March 1, 2020, the very day Greece suspended the right to apply for asylum for one month. Consequently, for almost a month he was detained together with hundreds of people in the port of Mytilene and later transferred to the Malakasa camp on the Greek mainland. Conditions in the port of Mytilene were appalling. Lawyers, journalists, the UN and members of the European Parliament were denied access.

But not only was A.B. mistreated and denied the right to seek asylum, a year after his arrival in Greece he was then charged with “unauthorized entry” and “facilitating the unauthorized entry of 28 people”.

The basis for the charges, as it is very common in such cases, are the testimonies of two officials of the so-called Coast Guard who stated that A.B. had steered the boat. One of the Coast Guard officers made his statement months after A.B. arrived in Greece and months after A.B. himself had been transferred off the island.

This kind of criminalization of people on the move is common practice not only in Greece, but virtually at all maritime borders in Europe. For this, the mere steering of the boat or the assumption of any other task on board is summarily declared a crime and people are consequently charged with “facilitating unauthorized entry” and usually sentenced to long prison terms. [Incarcerating the Maginalized]

The EU pretends the systematic arrests are to crack down on “unscrupulous, criminal smuggling gangs”, when in reality it is another instrument of deterrence and violence, putting hundreds of people arriving in Europe behind bars – accused for steering the boat.

This is particularly evident in A.B.’s case: In his case, he did not even steer the boat – and there is even video evidence of that. This video evidence was already presented by his lawyers from the Legal Centre Lesvos at the preliminary hearing in March 2021, and led to his release from pre-trial detention pending trial – something that hardly ever happens in Greece. But this is only seemingly good news – in fact, the video evidence should have been sufficient to have the charges dropped completely. However, this did not happen and so A.B. has to appear in court next Monday, 05.12.22.

If convicted, he could face more than 60 years in prison.

Vicky Angelidou, lawyer of A.B., Legal Centre Lesvos: “Yet another refugee’s life and future is being put in jeopardy by a system that imprisons foreigners using a broad and vague law and no evidence.”

Nefeli Belavila-Trova, Aegean Migrant Solidarity: “We hope that this time the justice system will do the right thing, and that A.B. will not be just another innocent defendant convicted without any evidence. What needs to happen is that the law is changed and that people seeking safe passage in Europe are no longer accused.”

borderline-europe: “The blatant arbitrariness in the prosecution in this case shows once again that these so-called ‘boat driver’ cases have nothing to do with ‘fighting crime’ and ‘the rule of law’, but that the authorities are only interested in presenting a scapegoat and criminalizing people on the move.”

A.B. did not even steer the boat, he must be acquitted! But even if he had steered it, for us it is clear: crossing borders and driving a boat or a car are not crimes! The real crime is the border regime established by the EU and its partners along the various migration routes.

We demand:

  • The charges against A.B. to be dropped;
  • Freedom for all those imprisoned for driving a boat or a car with other people seeking protection 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.

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