Three Spanish firefighters working with the NGO Proemaid on the eastern Aegean island of Lesvos are looking for support from European Parliament ahead of standing trial on May 7 on charges of migrant smuggling, Euronews reported on Wednesday.
Seville firemen Manuel Blanco, Julio Latorre and Enrique Rodriguez could face up to 10 years in prison if found guilty of charges they say are based on a misunderstanding of their work with the NGO, which has involved rescuing dozens of refugees and migrants attempting the perilous crossing from Turkey into Greece and the European Union.
“We are not smugglers. We are rescuers doing humanitarian work to help the local authorities who don’t have the capacity to help the huge number of Syrian refugees escaping the war,” Blanco told Euronews from Brussels, where he is trying to rally European lawmakers.
“If a person is drowning and you bring them ashore to try and save them, that can be seen as facilitating their entry,” he added. “How you can compare a person who smuggles people for money with rescuers who save people’s lives?”
Blanco told Euronews that he first came to Lesvos in 2015 at the peak of the refugee crisis and worked several missions until his arrest in January 2016 along with that of his two colleagues.
“I’ve been a firefighter for 20 years and I thought I had seen every sort of emergency response scenario but I hadn’t experienced a humanitarian crisis of this caliber,” he told Euronews.