The 2 accused were acquitted of all charges in Kalamata on the 19th of May.
20 May 2022
More context on the trial of last week in Kalamata
Over a year ago, in the evening hours of May 3rd, 2021, a group of around 180 people was brought to the Greek port of Kalamata after spending seven days at sea. A few days after the arrival, some of them were arrested and accused of smuggling. Two of the accused were then imprisoned unjustifiably and, after one year, will be freed from prison in the coming days. However, they will probably remain in a detention center a while longer: this is the bitter reality of the Greek asylum system today. At the same time, three other passengers from the same boat were sentenced to over 361 years each in their absence.
This is an absurd sentence, especially considering that all passengers on board the boat unanimously said that the drivers fled on a small dinghy before the boat was brought to Kalamata. Consequently, upon their arrival at Kalamata, there were no accusations of boat driving against any of the passengers.
However, this changed some days after the arrival. Out of nowhere, new accusations came to light after people were transferred to the quarantine camp in Andravida. Whilst they were in quarantine there, some of them were badly beaten and mistreated by the police. It was during that time that some passengers changed their witness statements and accused five people of boat driving.
This is one more instance which demonstrates how the Greek state constructs criminal cases against people on the move as part of its violent policy of deterrence. It also highlights another dimension of the attacks against people on the move: being forced, under the threat of violence, into accusing others of boat driving.
Like most of the survivors of the shipwreck in Kalamata, three of the accused left after their quarantine had ended. At the same time, the two that were imprisoned for over a year have only now been acquitted by the court. Throughout this time, two young children of one of the imprisoned were given to a foster family in Greece. The kids had to spend a year of their life without their father, due to unjustified imprisonment. The two imprisoned were robbed of their freedom by the Greek state for over a year for no reason. And they will suffer from the traumatising consequences for much longer.
While we are relieved that the two imprisoned will be freed, we condemn the outrageous sentences of over 361 years against the three other passengers. We also condemn the criminalization of alleged boat driving in Greece and elsewhere. In a country where the judicial system regularly affords impunity to corrupt politicians and violent border practices, we see this as another show trial which has sentenced innocent people to hundreds of years in prison; with the purpose of maintaining the dangerous narrative of criminalisation.
We want to underline again: neither driving a boat nor crossing borders is a crime!
The real crime is the border regime and the countless human rights violations committed every day!
Freedom for all those imprisoned for boat driving!
May 19: trial in Kalamata – criminalization against people on the move in Greece continues!
16 May 2022
Common statement by Aegean Migrant Solidarity, borderline-europe, Can’t Evict Solidarity, Iuventa-Crew, Legal Center Lesvos and Watch the Med Alarm Phone.
Criminalization efforts in Greece continue: two migrants have to appear in front of the court in Kalamata, Greece, on May 19, 2022. Shortly after the trials against the Paros 3 and the Samos 2, two more people face trial in Greece. Over a year ago, in the evening hours of May 3rd, 2021, a group of around 180 people was brought to the Greek port of Kalamata after spending seven days at sea. On arrival, several people were arrested and accused of smuggling. Two of the accused have been imprisoned since the arrest and face trial next week. This is yet another story that shows the systematic attacks on people’s freedom by the Greek state.
Ibrahim*, a Syrian man and one of the accused in Kalamata, defends himself with clear words against the accusation:
“No, I did not try to repair the engine as I don’t know how to do it. I was not driving the boat. I got the money for the trip from my sons and friends. I spend six years in Turkey. My children are all boys and grown up – I did not want them to go to war and get killed. In Syria I was a builder.”
When the group of 180 was at sea, they reached out to the Alarm Phone as the motor stopped working. They were stuck in Greek waters on their way to Italy and had run out of water and food. For several days, however, the people refused help by the Greek Coast Guard as they were afraid of what would await them in Greece. They reported the following – (full report here):
“The Greek Coast Guard – You will be shocked about the story you will hear about their aggression and inhumanity. Some people from our group were caught by them earlier, about two weeks ago. They tied them up with cable ties and threw them in the water, just like that. You might not believe this, but there are people with me here who can tell you the same story. We refuse any help from Greece, because they will torture us, they always play games on us.”
This fear was justified: Several among the group had previously been pushed back and brutalized by the Hellenic Coast Guard, and several passengers said they would prefer to die at sea than to enter into the hands of the Hellenic Coast Guard again.
For Ibrahim, it was neither his first trip, nor his first traumatizing experience with Greek authorities:
“I still feel dizzy from the previous boat trip and I can not see well, especially with my left eye. Four to five months ago, I had first tried to travel [to Europe] but they pushed us back. I had no life vest. Only a few had one. We sincerely risked to drown.”
Until today, these systematic pushbacks and attacks against people on the move continue to happen, while the ones who are responsible for these crimes face no retribution.
On the contrary, Greek authorities systematically criminalize people on the move: For most boats that arrive in Greece, several people are arrested and afterwards legally prosecuted for steering the boat or for helping in other ways during the journey. The trials are often over very quickly, with decisions reached in a short time, and the sentences are draconic. Without sufficient evidence, people are usually arrested upon arrival and kept in pre-trial detention for months. When their case finally comes to court, their trials average only 38 minutes in length, leading to an average sentence of 44 years and fines over 370.000 Euro.
To us it is clear: boat driving and crossing borders can never be a crime. It’s a fundamental right – and one we will continue to uphold and support. The real crime is the border regime put in place by the EU and its partners along the different migration routes.
- All charges against the accused to be dropped;
- Freedom for all those imprisoned for “boat driving” despite the fact that there is no alternative to reach the European Union;
- An end to the criminalization of migration and the incarceration of people on the move.
For media requests write to media(att)alarmphone.org
* name has been changed