Category Archives: smuggling

[Greece] Free Nour – criminalization of refugees as human traffickers

The source of the following article is the petition in change.org: (https://www.change.org/p/european-court-of-human-rights-free-nour-al-sameh) as well as the picture which is taken from this petition too.

Cases of state repression against refugees arriving with boats on greek islands by criminalizing their act of eventually conducting a boat as human trafficking as written below, are no single cases. It is a systematicly policy of deterrence and arbitrariness. We want to make these cases visible. Nour is an exemplary case for this:

Free Nour Al-sameh! 

Nour Al-Sameh is 29 years old ٍSyrian who is unjustly imprisoned in Greece for 4 years now because he flee to Europe for refuge. Just like the Captain of the Sea-Watch Carola Rackete, he acted to save the lives of people on a boat in the Aegean Sea who would otherwise have drowned in the water.

Nour studied Business Management in Syria, he fled his country due to persecution and war that burst in. He stayed in Turkey in an unbearable situation without shelter or job until he managed to leave Turkey, in July 29th 2015. The only possibility for him to seek refuge in Europe was crossing the Aegean Sea in small sailing boat. He was the only person on the boat who could speak English, when the boat was about to sink he called for help using the walky-talky on the boat.

People on the boat were taken by The Greek coast guards accompanied by military forces (according to Nour,this forces were in military uniform, and he thinks that they were speaking in German)
The boat was taken to the harbor of Perya Island in Greece, he was handed to the Greek coast guards. Being blindfolded and handcuffed, Nour was beaten, insulted and humiliated by the Greek police.

He was accused with Human Trafficking and sentenced for 315 years and a fine of 3150000 Euros in June 2016. Similar cases have shown that the court counts prison year by the number of people on the boat. With the support of his friends he managed to get a lawyer and appeal against this decision in November 2017, the judge of  Perya court dismissed the appeal. In another attempt for justice Nour’s lawyer brought the case to the highest court in Greece, the Supreme Court, to win the opportunity for an appeal and to explain his story properly. Since the hearing in the Supreme Court in February 2019 Nour is waiting for an answer on his claim.

Nour’s case is not an exception. Many refugees have been criminalized, arrested and are currently detained in Greek prisons simply because they were fleeing. The Legal Center Lesvos has documented https://legalcentrelesvos.org/category/news/).

“The individuals charged are denied the basic rights to a fair trial, guaranteed under Article 6 of the European Convention of Human Rights, as they are routinely denied adequate interpretation, are denied a fair hearing, and convictions are based on the sole fact that the individual was driving the boats attempting to reach Europe from Turkey” In Nour’s case it was simply making a call to ask for help. The Christian Peacemaker Team also documented a trial against refugees concluding

“No one in the courtroom supported the business of human smuggling of refugees—making immense profits by charging huge prices for transporting refugees in very dangerous conditions, usually crowding too many people in unsafe boats, often not giving them life jackets that actually work, or not putting enough fuel in the motor to reach the shore of the Greek island. It’s a horrendous crime against these vulnerable and desperate people. But the people being tried in this courtroom were not the people running these illegal businesses and getting rich.”

https://cptmediterranean.wordpress.com/2016/12/01/seeing-in-the-greek-courtroom/

Here is another article tackling the unjust sentencing of many more people, most likely there are many more like Nour that we haven’t heard of.

http://www.ekathimerini.com/241858/article/ekathimerini/news/three-arrested-for-migrant-smuggling-in-as-many-incidents

Nour is still arrested without any help and his case is forgotten

please sign his petition and share it, Nour deserves our solidarity

Saving lives is not a crime!

We demand Nour’s immediate release!

 

[Ägäis] Interview on theEU`s fight against “smuggling” – Wieso es nicht nur um Carola Rackete geht

Interview zur Situation der “smuggling cases” – zuerst veröffentlicht von dm aegean:

Not only European sea rescue organizations are criminalized. Hundreds of migrants seeking protection in Europe are immediately arrested after their arrival by boat on the Greek Islands. They are accused of human smuggling.

The police is looking for the people who were driving the boat. These people are either refugees who could not afford their journey in a rubber dinghy and accept to steer the boat or Turkish citizen not knowing the risk they occur.

One trial against a “smuggler” lasts less than half an hour. In nearly all cases, the accused migrants are found guilty. Their average sentence is about 44 years in prison that is to be served for about 19 years. The average fines imposed are over 370.000 Euros.

[Ägäis] The war against smuggling

Artikel zuerst veröffentlicht von dm aegean und V.H.

The following short report is based on data collected by the organization Christian Peacemaker Teams Lesvos (CPT-Lesvos) who has been monitoring smuggling trials since 2014. All graphs have been made by CPT-Lesvos. An in-depth analysis of the data collected will be published in autumn 2019.

Criminalizing Migration and Escape Aid

Many people who reach the Greek islands in rubber dinghies have been travelling for months or years to find freedom and safety in the European Union. But surviving the crossing of the Aegean Sea from Turkey to Greece does not mean that they eventually reached safety.

On the Greek hotspot islands, some migrants are regularly arrested from their boats and directly detained and accused of human smuggling. The European Union claims:

“Fighting and preventing human smuggling and trafficking is one of the priorities of the European Union and crucial to address irregular migration in a comprehensive way.”

European Union, 15.10.2018[1]

Jamil from Afghanistan (name changed) experienced what this means. He was sentenced to 90 years in prison of which he will have to serve 25 years and was also convicted to a 13,000 Euro penalty. Jamil was captured driving a refugee boat from Greece to Lesvos. He could not afford to pay for his wife’s and his own journey, so he accepted the offer from the smuggler who asked him to drive the boat and return to get a free ride with his wife. He did not know that driving a boat would be considered a crime. While his wife now lives in Germany, he is still imprisoned – he appealed the court decision but was again convicted.

His example shows that the maxim of fighting human smuggling is not only used to criminalize civilian sea rescue as in the cases of the recent accusations against the captain of the Sea Watch 3 and the crew of the rescue boat Iuventa. It however impacts people who do not hold European passports much more directly. Many of them come as refugees themselves, intending to seek asylum in Europe. While European sea rescuers have so far only been accused for crimes but not convicted, hundreds of migrants have been sentenced to decades in prison with excessive charges.

Arresting “smugglers”

The organization Christian Peacemaker Teams Lesvos (CPT-Lesvos) has been monitoring the smuggling trials since 2014. They found that most of the people accused of smuggling are Turkish citizens and some of them migrants from other countries seeking protection in Europe. All people arrested are male. CPT-Lesvos member Rûnbîr Serkepkanî explains:

“What is common among most of them is that they are poor, they are students, they are migrants who couldn’t afford paying for the travel to the Aegean islands. (…) If you are a Turkish citizen – we have many migrants who are Turkish who have applied for asylum here in Greece – you are automatically accused of being the smuggler or the driver of the boat.”

Rûnbîr Serkepkanî, CPT-Lesvos, March 2019

Dariusz Firla from CPT-Lesvos describes how people labelled as “smugglers” are often identified:

“When the Coast Guard or FRONTEX pick up refugees at sea, they usually ask directly: “Who drove the boat?”. Sometimes people even say, “That was me,” because they don’t know it’s a crime. In some cases, it is simply a matter of refugees who paid less and drive the boat for this, but often it is Turks from poor regions who, for example, had no work and were hired by the smugglers for some pocket money to go and return the boat. Sometimes they are beaten bloody after their arrest until they arrive at the port.”

Dariusz Firla, CPT Lesvos, June 2017

The Greek Coast Guards in the port of Mytilene, Lesvos. Photo: March 2018

CPT-Lesvos interviewed Tarek (name changed) from Syria who has been detained in Chios prison for 14 months. He explained: “I was beaten from the moment I was arrested at sea until arriving at the police station. I was bleeding.”

After their arrest, people are held in pre-trial detention. CPT-Lesvos found that migrants are on average detained for 7 months before their first trial. There were also cases where the trial was postponed twice, leading to 29 months of pre-detention.

A farce of a court case

One of the major problems in court is a shocking lack of deep processing. CPT-Lesvos timed the duration of 28 trials and found that the average duration of an individual trial was only 28.5 minutes, while the average duration of a joint trial was 43 minutes. Obviously, this makes a thorough investigation of the question of guilt impossible. Furthermore, the translation within the trials is extremely poor.

Table 1: Duration of Trials

In many cases, the defendants are sentenced even if there is hardly any evidence against them. Dariusz Firla explains:

“Sometimes there is only the Coast Guard as witness. For the judges, it can be sufficient if the witness identifies the defendant as the driver of the boat. In one case, the Coast Guard even stated that he had not been present at the rescue operation himself, but that his colleague had told him that the defendant was guilty.”

Dariusz Firla, CPT Lesvos, June 2017

On top of the lack of deep processing by the judges, the quality of the court-appointed lawyers poses a major problem, especially since most lawyers are only appointed at the day of the trial and have no means to do any investigation for the defence. Sometimes, state or private lawyers also do not appear before the court, as in the case of Tarek (name changed), who had spent 14 months in pre-trial detention. Tarek’s family sold whatever they could to pay for a Greek lawyer, but the lawyer failed to show up on the day of the trial and he was sentenced to 45 years in prison.

Life long sentences

In nearly all cases, the accused migrants are found guilty of human smuggling and in some cases also of entry to Greece without permission and disobedience. Rûnbîr Serkepkanî states:

“The punishment of people who are accused with or charged with smuggling is higher than murder in Greece. So it is more serious to drive a boat which carries migrants to the Greek islands than murdering people.”

Rûnbîr Serkepkanî, CPT-Lesvos, March 2019

The sentences are calculated adding factors such as the number of people transported, transport without life vests, and if their lives were put in danger (e.g. through capsizing of the boat), which is why the sentence can exceed 100 years. Since the maximum period of factual imprisonment in Greece is 25 years, the sentences is then reduced accordingly. In some cases, mitigating circumstances are taken into account, reducing the penalty to about ten years. Sometimes the deportation of the convicted person is ordered directly after the release. In fact, looking at 41 cases between 2016 and 2017, CPT-Lesvos found that the average sentence of the trials they monitored was about 44 years in prison with an expected actual duration in prison of about 19 years. In addition, there are huge fines imposed, on average more than 370.000 Euros.

Charge Average Sentence
(41 cases)
Average time the sentence is to be served (41 cases)
(1) human smuggling (illegal transportation in order to earn money) 48 years 18 years
(1) human smuggling (illegal transportation in order to earn money)
(2) entry to Greece without permission
51 years 19 years
(1) human smuggling (illegal transportation in order to earn money)
(2) entry to Greece without permission
(3) disobedience
32 years 19.5 years
Table 3: Sentence and incarceration
Table 4: Sentence, Incarceration and Money Penalty

The European incarceration of the marginalized

The necessity to prevent human smuggling has been normalized in the European Union. Arrests are supported by the European Border and Coast Guard Agency FRONTEX and hardly any politician would question the necessity to prevent human smuggling at the EU external borders. The actions of the Greek state and courts are either tacitly supported or ignored.

The EU Commission, FRONTEX and interior ministries tend to mention the need to fight human smuggling in one breath with the necessity to save lives and ensure protection of humans. This was especially made possible through the convergence of discourses around human trafficking, human smuggling and escape aid.[4] The EU claims:

“While trafficking in human beings and migrant smuggling are two different crimes subject to different legal frameworks they are closely interlinked.”

European Union, 15.10.2018[5]

Trafficking and smuggling may overlap in some cases, however, they are in fact two completely different issues. Trafficking is a forced transfer of people, connected to kidnapping, exploitation and modern slavery, while human smuggling is a response on the restrictive border policies preventing even refugees to be able to cross borders in a legal way.

For the majority of the worldwide population, there is no safe passage and no legal way to enter an EU country and seek asylum or receive a working visa. People are forced to embark on illegalized deadly routes and have no other option but to use the service of facilitators that are in many cases excessively overpriced and risky. The facilitation of people’s journeys is illegalized even if their right to stay is approved through an asylum decision afterwards. Destroying smuggling networks will not save lives – people rely on them to save their own lives.

As the example of Greece shows, the people who are arrested in the fight against human smuggling are exactly those already suffering most from the EU border policies. In many cases, they had no choice and are themselves seeking protection. The anti-smuggling policies at the external border of Greece only hit the smallest link in a chain. Since people often have neither information on the risks they undergo nor a choice, these policies do not even have a deterring effect and only follow a senseless ideology of punishment. Without any need, the lives of marginalized people are destroyed in devastating ways. It is migrants and refugees seeking protection – unheard and without any lobby – who have to pay with their lives and dreams for these misguided and inhumane European policies.


[1]European Union (2018): The EU’s global engagement to counter smuggling and trafficking networks, 15.10.2018.

[2] For a recent arrest, see e.g.: Ekathimerini.com, 11.07.2019: Three arrested for migrant smuggling in as many incidents.

[3] See also: CPT Europe, 01.12.2016: Seeing in the Greek Courtroom.

[4] For an in-depth analysis see: Bellezza, Sara; Calandrino, Tiziana, March 2017: Criminalization of Flight and Escape Aid. Borderline-europe.

[5]European Union (2018): The EU’s global engagement to counter smuggling and trafficking networks, 15.10.2018.