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The controversial trial of 24 illegal refugee rescuers begins on Lesvos island

 aid workers refugees
Archive Photo UNHCR/A.McConnell
 
The controversial trial of 24 aid workers who helped dozens of illegal migrants and asylum seekers, at the peak of the refugee crisis, is set to begin today, Tuesday on the island of Lesvos.
 
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 is Sarah Mardini, a Syrian refugee who helped save 19 passengers on the dinghy.
 
She and her sister sailed from Turkey to Greece in 2015 and their story inspired the Netflix movie “The Swimmers”.
 
The Irish-German rescue diver Sean Binder is also standing trial today.
 
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, yesterday.
 
Today'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.