NEWS

Four NGO members arrested for migrant smuggling released from pretrial custody

TASOS TELLOGLOU

TAGS: Migration, Justice

Four members of Emergency Response Center International (ERCI) who were arrested on Lesvos in August on charges of forming a criminal organization that smuggled migrants into Greece for the purpose of bolstering the NGO’s funds were released on Wednesday from pretrial custody.

Judicial authorities on the eastern Aegean island ruled that the four suspects are not at risk of committing fresh crimes as the nonprofit organization is no longer in operation.

Kathimerini has learned ERCI’s founder and the NGO’s former director were released after paying bonds of 10,000 euros and 5,000 euros respectively.

The other two suspects, one of whom is Syrian elite swimmer Sarah Mardini, were granted unconditional release.

ERCI was accused in August of people smuggling while carrying out rescue missions in Lesvos, one of the Greek island on the front line of the refugee crisis. 

The issue has caused a public outcry, particularly in regards to the arrest of Mardini, who volunteered with the group after saving, along with her sister (an Olympian), 18 refugees when their dinghy started taking on water during the crossing from Turkey to Lesvos in 2015.

Judicial authorities, meanwhile, also appear to have started questioning the evidence submitted by police to back the charges, as is evident by the release last month of the ERCI's coordinator for the NGO's activities on Lesvos, as well as by the most recent releases.

The charges of migrant smuggling stem from allegations that ERCI had prior knowledge of where boats carrying migrants and refugees from Turkey would land on Lesvos and failed to notify the proper authorities.

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