Contentious trial of 24 refugee aid workers to begin on Lesvos

Contentious trial of 24 refugee aid workers to begin on Lesvos

The controversial trial of 24 aid workers who helped dozens of migrants and asylum seekers land safely on the shores of Lesvos at the peak of the refugee crisis is set to begin on the eastern Aegean island on Tuesday.

Slammed by the European Parliament as “the largest case of criminalization of solidarity in Europe,” the trial has drawn international attention to Greece’s stringent border protection laws.

Among those standing trial on a slew of charges are Sarah Mardini, a Syrian refugee who helped save 19 passengers on the dinghy she and her sister sailed from Turkey to Greece on in 2015, and whose story inspired the Netflix movie “The Swimmers,” as well as Irish-German rescue diver Sean Binder. Both were volunteers of the now-defunct NGO Emergency Response Center International (ERCI) at the time of their arrest in February 2018.

The case “effectively criminalizes life-saving humanitarian solidarity for people on the move and is riddled with procedural flaws that undermine their rights to due process and a fair trial,” Human Rights Watch said in a statement in December when the new trial date was announced.

The 24 aid workers first went on trial in November 2021, but the case was adjourned on jurisdictional grounds.

“There are too many people on trial at the court, so there might be a reason for the trial to be adjourned again. But that would only exacerbate the ongoing violations of human rights by extending this farcical prosecution,” Glykeria Arapi, Amnesty International’s director in Greece, told Deutsche Welle on Monday.

Tuesday’s trial comes a day after a court of appeals on Lesvos commuted the life sentence of Somali national Mohammad Hanad Abdi, who was sentenced to 142 years in prison in 2021 for migrant smuggling.

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