Greece: Authorities must drop 'farcical' trial of refugee rescue volunteers

Sarah Mardini and Seán Binder © Amnesty International

Seán Binder and Sarah Mardini’s trials begin on 10 January

Mardini’s story inspired the Netflix film - The Swimmers

Rescuers face baseless charges for helping refugees and migrants at risk of drowning at sea

‘This trial is about the Greek authorities trying to crush compassion and prevent people from seeking safety’ - Seán Binder

‘It is farcical that this trial is even taking place. All charges against the rescuers must be dropped without delay’ - Nils Muižnieks

Ahead of the trial next week (10 Jan) of rescue workers Seán Binder and Sarah Mardini, Amnesty International is calling for the Greek authorities to drop all charges against them.

Seán, a trained rescue diver, and Sarah, a Syrian refugee and activist whose story inspired the Netflix film The Swimmers, stand trial together with 22 others from the search and rescue NGO that they volunteered for. They are facing unfair, baseless charges simply for helping refugees and migrants at risk of drowning at sea.

Seán Binder, said:                        

“If I can be criminalised for mostly doing little more than handing out bottles of water and smiles, then so can anyone. This trial is not about me and Sara, or even the 22 other defendants. This trial is about the Greek authorities trying to crush compassion and prevent people from seeking safety. But I trust that justice will prevail and we will be able to get on with our lives.”

Nils Muižnieks, Amnesty International’s Director of the European Regional Office, said:

“Sarah and Seán did what any of us should do if we were in their position. Helping people at risk of drowning in one of the deadliest sea routes in Europe and assisting them on the shoreline is not a crime.

This trial reveals how the Greek authorities will go to extreme lengths to deter humanitarian assistance and discourage migrants and refugees from seeking safety on the country’s shores, something which we see in a number of European countries. It is farcical that this trial is even taking place. All charges against the rescuers must be dropped without delay.”

Sarah Mardini, who is originally from Syria, arrived in Lesvos as a refugee in 2015. After the engine failed on the boat she was travelling on, Sarah and her sister Yusra saved 18 fellow passengers by pulling the sinking boat to safety. Yusra went on to swim for Team Refugees in the Olympics. The sisters’ story inspired the Netflix film ‘The Swimmers’. Sarah returned to Greece in 2016 and went on to volunteer at a Greek search and rescue organisation, where she met Seán. She now lives and studies in Berlin.

Seán Binder, a German citizen raised in Ireland, is a certified rescue diver who spent time rescuing migrants and refugees from the sea in Lesvos, Greece, one of the major points of entry to Europe. He is currently working in London.

Arrests in 2018

After Sarah and Seán were arrested in August 2018, they spent more than 100 days in prison before being released on bail. The upcoming trial relates to misdemeanour charges, including espionage and forgery, which can carry up to eight years in prison.

They are also facing another ongoing investigation over baseless charges of people smuggling, fraud, membership of a criminal organisation, and money laundering, which carry a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. The investigation has been open for over four years, during which time they have not been able to get on with their lives.

The trial

Due to be held at the Court of Appeals of Northern Aegean, in Lesvos, on 10 January, the trial was previously adjourned in November 2021 on procedural grounds. It is expected that the trial will take weeks or possibly even months to conclude.

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