On 08 June, after having been already imprisoned for 1.5 years, the appeal trial against Abdallah, Kheiraldin and Mohamad, the #Paros3, will take place on the Greek island of Syros. Because they had steered the boat on which they and around 80 other people tried to reach Europe, they were sentenced to a total of 439 years for smuggling on 05 June 2022.
On the 24th of December 2021, a boat set off from the Turkish coast heading for Italy in an attempt to bypass Greece, infamous for its systematic and violent push-backs. On board were more than 80 people, desperate to leave Syria and Turkey and hoping to start a new life in Europe.
Among them were also Abdallah J. and Mohamad B., both 32-year-old fathers of four, and Kheiraldin A., a 39-year-old father of two children. Abdallah has family in Austria, Mohamad in Germany, Kheiraldin in Germany and Finland. Kheiraldin decided to leave his home, his two children and his wife in Turkey because his two-year-old daughter needs a surgery she cannot get in Turkey. In Europe, he was hoping to ask for asylum and bring his daughter there, too. Neither Abdallah nor Mohamad or Kheiraldin had the money for the particularly expensive trip to Italy. However, they had some mechanical knowledge which they could offer as payment. Consequently, they agreed to take over some piloting tasks in return for a cheaper fare. Abdallah took on the role as the captain, Kheiraldin as the mechanic and Mohamad as the assistant.
This is a common occurrence on the flight route from Turkey to Europe. Refugees usually steer the boats themselves. While in the past smugglers took their “clients” to their desired destination, e.g. drop them off safely on the other side of the Aegean, due to the ever-increasing militarisation of borders and the criminalisation of migration, this has become too high a risk and therefore not been part of the offer for years.
For 160km, Abdallah, Kheiraldin and Mohammad tried their best to steer the boat as safely as possible past the Greek islands towards Italy. After they had already been on the water for over ten hours, one of the engines broke off due to unstable weather conditions. Soon after, the second one followed. Abdallah, Kheiraldin and Mohamad tried their best to fix the problem, but there was not much they could do. When water began to seep into the boat, panic broke out, causing it eventually to capsize near the Greek island of Paros at around 6 p.m. on Christmas Eve. Sixty-three people could be saved, but 18 lost their lives in the waves.
On the island, the coast guard and the police questioned the survivors. All were still in deep shock. A few hours earlier, they had almost drowned. Some of them had just lost their loved ones. Some had spent hours in the freezing sea before being rescued. However, the authorities were not primarily interested in recording the victims’ stories and informing their families or providing them with legal information. The only thing they were interested in was finding out who had steered the boat. Read the full story of the #Paros3 here: Three Syrian refugees face 18 life sentences because they steered the boat.1
The person who steered the boat is not only held responsible by the European authorities as the smuggler, but also for all the suffering during the journey. The person is arrested, treated like a felon, and put behind bars for decades. All the blame for the increasingly deadly and violent routes is placed on them and away from the European authorities and their border policies.
As documented by CPT – Aegean Migrant Solidarity, borderline-europe and Deportation Monitoring Aegean2, the filing of such charges against migrants arriving on the Greek islands has been systematically used by the Greek state for several years. The arrests that follow these often-unfounded accusations of smuggling are arbitrary, and the trials flout basic standards of fairness. Without sufficient evidence, they 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 over 370.000 Euro.
Consequently, Abdallah, Kheiraldin and Mohamad were placed in pre-trial detention. On 05 May 2022, their first instance trial took place on the island of Syros. Although both the prosecution and the judges acknowledged that the three defendants were not the smugglers or had acted for profit, nor were they to blame for the 18 people who lost their lives, the three fathers were nevertheless convicted of “facilitating unauthorised entry”, resulting in a sentence of 187 years for the “captain” and 126 years for each of the two “assistants”. Read the full trial report here: Kheiraldin, Abdallah and Mohamad: #Paros3 sentenced to a total of 439 years for steering the boat.3
The defense appealed the verdict. On 08 June, the appeal trial will finally take place.
Together with their family members and their lawyers we will be there to testify, document and support!
We demand their immediate release from prison, freedom for all those arrested for boat driving and an end to the criminalization of migration and incarceration of people on the move!