‘Criminalizing Rescue’

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A Greek court dismissed charges against 24 aid workers who had been helping migrants arriving in Europe, putting an end to a case that critics said symbolized the criminalization of rescue work, the Washington Post reported over the weekend.

The defendants, who had been working for non-governmental organizations helping migrants arriving on the Greek island of Lesbos, were charged with multiple crimes, including espionage.

If found guilty, they could have faced up to eight years in prison.

The defendants included Syrian human rights worker Sarah Mardini, a refugee and competitive swimmer whose sister Yusra Mardini was part of the refugee swimming team at the Olympic Games in 2016 and 2021, according to the Associated Press.

The sisters’ story was made into a Netflix movie, “The Swimmers.”

In its ruling, the court rejected the charges on procedural grounds, saying documents had not been properly translated, and gave prosecutors the option to refile. But observers said that the defendants were unlikely to be charged again because the statute of limitations expires next month.

The case generated international condemnation, including from Amnesty International which described it as “a textbook example of how the criminal justice system can be misused by the authorities to punish and deter the work of human rights defenders.”

The case was also part of efforts by Greece’s conservative government to curb the number of undocumented migrants entering the country. These efforts also included the practice of “pushbacks,” which involved dragging migrant ships back to international waters, a violation of maritime law.

At the height of the 2015-2016 refugee crisis in Europe, Greece saw more than one million migrants and refugees arrive on its shores, many of them escaping Syria and other conflict areas.

Resentment grew in Mediterranean countries because of the spike in asylum seekers, particularly as some other European Union members refused to take in migrants.

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