2,000 asylum seekers are currently held in Greek prisons for human smuggling. Some of them have received harsh prison sentences, promoting rights condemnation.
Greece and other European countries are increasingly using the threat of criminal proceedings against aid workers and those accused of migrant smuggling to deter asylum seekers, critics say.
A Somali asylum seeker has been sentenced to 146 years in prison for human smuggling by a Greek court, according to the European Council on Refugees and Exiles. Other migrants defended the man in court, saying that he started steering their boat to save lives after a capsizing.
On Thursday, May 13, Mohamad H. was sentenced in a Greek court on the island of Lesbos to 146 years in prison. The 27-year old Somalian is charged with migrant smuggling from Turkey to Greece.
The European Council on Refugees and Exile (ECRE) reported the sentence in their weekly bulletin and posted a link to their report on twitter.
“Yet another asylum seeker had to stand trial over charges of being a human smuggler and of being responsible for a lethal shipwreck he survived,” the ECRE report began.
ECRE reports that Mohamad H, a young father of four, fled Somalia for Turkey. He was one of 34 people who boarded a rubber boat from Turkey to Greece in December 2020.
According to ECRE, their boat capsized near the island of Lesbos and two passsengers on board drowned. The others were picked up by the Greek coast guard, including Mohamad H. At the time the coast guard arrived, Mohamad H was reportedly steering the vessel. Because of this, he was charged by the Greek authorities with “illegal transportation of third-country nationals into Greek territory.” In plain English, human smuggling.
He was also charged with endangering the life of others and with causing the death of two people, writes ECRE.
Syrian refugee also sentenced
Other survivors on the boat testified to ECRE, and in court according to the NGO Borderline Europe, that Mohamad H was trying to save lives when he took over the steering of the boat. “The asylum seekers that were on the same rubber boat appeared in court … and said they owe their lives to Mohamad’s actions,” wrote Daphne Tolis, a freelance journalist in Greece covering migration, on Twitter.
“Under Greek migration law, just touching the wheel of a boat is enough to land you in prison for smuggling,” lawyers responsible for Mohamand H’s case told ECRE.
This is the second court decision against a refugee or migrant accused of human smuggling in Greece within less than a month, according to ECRE. On April 23, another Syrian refugee was sentenced to 52 years imprisonment and a fine of €242,000 for the crimes of “illegal entry” and “facilitating illegal entry.”