Crete: 16-year-old faces 4670 years in prison for smuggling

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

Nearly a year ago, H. Elfallah, a fisherman from Egypt, was sentenced to 280 years in prison for the “unauthorized transportation of third-country nationals into Greek territory”. Now, on 28 February 2024, his minor son, the now 16-year-old M. Elfallah, will stand trial for the same accusations in the juvenile court in Crete. Father and son attempted to reach Europe together on a boat in November 2022. Utilizing his skills as a fisherman, the father took on tasks on board – and both were subsequently arrested for smuggling upon arrival in Greece. Their story clearly shows: Europe’s purported “fight against criminal smugglers” primarily targets refugees themselves.

Although M. and his father embarked on the journey together in November 2022, the teenager has now been separated from his father for almost 1.5 years. Separated because they were arrested by the Greek authorities on arrival for smuggling. Separated because in Greece, merely taking on tasks on board is sufficient to fulfil the legal definition of smuggling. Separated because his father was placed immediately in pretrial detention, while M. was placed in a shelter for minors. Separated because H. Elfallah was sentenced to 280 years in prison in March 2023, while M. has been awaiting his trial for the same charges

H. Elfallah is a 45-year-old father of four, and a fisherman from Egypt. After one of his sons migrated to the United Kingdom, he and his 15-year-old son sought to follow. On 21 November 2022, they boarded a large fishing boat in Libya, along with hundreds of others. It should be understood that a boat must be steered by someone, especially one of this size. A boat of this size typically requires multiple individuals to handle navigation, steering, and mechanics.

H. Elfallah did not wish to take on these tasks; he did not want to be responsible for hundreds of people on a poorly equipped boat, unprepared for such a journey. However, with the increasing criminalisation of facilitating migration, it is usually the migrants themselves who have to steer the boat. And as Elfallah could not afford the trip for his son and himself, he offered his seafaring experience as payment and agreed on taking over some piloting tasks in return for a cheaper fare.

As a result, he and his son were charged not only with smuggling of a total of 467 people, but also with the aggravating circumstances of having acted for profit and being part of a criminal organisation.

This is a particularly perfidious abuse of a law whose purpose is supposedly to protect refugees from exploitation. The authorities base the accusation of profiteering on the fact that they received a reduced price for the trip in return for taking over some of the piloting tasks. This means that the law is not only punishing those it claims to protect, but in fact the most marginalized among them, who cannot afford the trip and are therefore forced to expose themselves to even greater risk; something we have seen in other cases such as the Paros3.

The case of the Elfallah family vividly illustrates the real-life impact of European anti-smuggling policies and legislation.

H. Elfallah and another passenger were already found guilty and sentenced to 280 years in prison by the Court in Crete on 6 March 62023. Now, on Wednesday, 28 February 2024, the minor M. Elfallah is also facing the same charges in court.

Maria Flouraki, lawyer of M. Elfallah: “My client is a minor who is not involved and could not be involved – due to his age – in illegal smuggling. He is just a kid accompanying his father. He found himself in an unruly vessel without his will. We trust justice.”

He and his family need our full solidarity!

Together with Mohamad, M.’s brother and H. Elfallah’s son, we demand:

  • That the charges against the minor son be dropped and the father be released from prison.
  • Freedom for all those imprisoned for “boat driving” when there is no alternative to reach the European Union.
  • An end to the criminalization of migration and the incarceration of people on the move.

Background info:

Based on this interpretation of people smuggling, thousands of individuals have already been convicted and incarcerated for years, despite the fact that they were simply trying to seek safety for themselves and others. Our study, “A Legal Vacuum – The Systematic Criminalisation of Migrants for Steering a Boat or Car to Greece”, illustrates how the filing of such charges against migrants arriving in Greece has been systematically employed by the Greek state for several years.

The arrests that follow these often unsubstantiated accusations of smuggling are arbitrary, and the subsequent trials blatantly disregard basic standards of fairness. Lacking sufficient evidence, individuals are typically arrested on arrival and subjected to prolonged pre-trial detention. Shockingly, when their cases finally reach the courtroom, the trials average a mere 37 minutes in duration, resulting in an average sentence of 46 years and fines totaling over 332,209 Euros.

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