Irish rescue diver arrested for helping refugees in Greece faces trial after five years

On January 13th, misdemeanour charges against Seán Binder, the Irish humanitarian volunteer arrested in 2018 on the Greek island of Lesbos, were dropped due to the lack of translation of the indictments.

He was arrested for smuggling, espionage and other minor crimes while he was providing aid to refugees and asylum seekers approaching the Greek shores with the local NGO Emergency Response Centre International.

However, the criminal investigation on felony charges, involving about twenty other international and Greek humanitarian workers, is far from closed: on February 9th, it will be sent to the Greek “Council of Judges” who will decide whether to press the charges or not.

“It’s really likely that they will charge me at some point with facilitating illegal entry, and this is far more serious,” Mr Binder said. “If found guilty, the sentence that I face will be a thousand years long. I’m waiting to hear what happens.”

“What we did with the organisation was both morally and legally right according to the existing EU laws,” he added.

Galway Pulse talked to Fenix Aid, a Greek legal aid organisation based in Lesbos, that campaign with many other NGOs against the “criminalisation of solidarity”.

“It’s not a Greek problem only”

Inês Avelãs, Head of Advocacy and Strategy at Fenix Aid, said: “There are many of these trials going on, this is just one of the most known. They are made to deter humanitarian NGOs from engaging and refugees and asylum seekers from undertaking their journeys. Almost no search and rescue missions are left on the island.”

Ms Avelãs explains what the country – and the EU – expect as an outcome of these trials: if fewer people will be there to help, fewer people will come to seek refuge. “But people will still make their journeys to the Greek shores, they’re only going to face more danger,” she says.

“The criminalisation also involves refugees and asylum seekers themselves, as they can be charged with smuggling because they took over a boat or swam to the shore,” says Ms Avelãs. “The same felonies that were put in place to protect them from the real criminals, are now used against them and against the people who would like to help them.”

According to Ms Avelãs, however, “This is not a Greek problem”: “The lack of solidarity between EU member states, taking place from 2015 onwards, has led to Greece and the other border countries feeling left alone with the burden,” she says, “The EU is condemning these deterrence policies now, but does, indirectly, support them. The recent response to Ukrainian displacement proved the EU has the power to respond to a refugee crisis.”

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