Dutch rescuer Pieter Wittenberg arrives at the courthouse, on trial with 23 aid workers on the island of Lesbos, January 10, 2023. MANOLIS LAGOUTARIS / AFP
It was expected. Greek justice canceled, Friday, January 13, the procedure for “espionage” against twenty-four humanitarian workers on the island of Lesbos, announced the court of Mytilene, capital of the Greek island, where these volunteers are tried, putting an end to a controversial trial denounced by the UN and NGOs. Among them, Syrian refugee Sarah Mardini, who with her Olympic swimmer sister inspired a fiction broadcast on Netflix.
The court made this decision due to procedural flaws, including the lack of translation of the indictment for foreign defendants, according to the court. Friday morning, the prosecutor had requested this cancellation. A separate procedure, in particular for migrant smuggling, is still under investigation.
A little earlier, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights had asked the Greek justice to drop all the charges against humanitarian workers. “This kind of trial is really worrying, because it criminalizes actions that save people’s lives,” said Elizabeth Throssell, a spokeswoman for the High Commission, at the regular UN briefing in Geneva. And to insist:
“Saving lives and providing humanitarian aid should never be criminalized. Such actions are, quite simply, a humanitarian and human rights imperative. »
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“Critical need for life-saving assistance in the Eastern Mediterranean”
Ms. Throssel insisted on the “chilling effect” of this kind of prosecution, “human rights defenders and humanitarian organizations having been forced to suspend their work in favor of human rights in Greece and in other countries. other EU countries”, she underlined.
“Despite the critical need for life-saving assistance in the Eastern Mediterranean”, where nearly 500 migrants have died or gone missing since 2021 according to the International Organization for Migration, “there is currently no civilian search and rescue organization operating in Greece,” recalled Ms. Throssell.
The Office is also concerned that legislation in a number of European countries “is being used to criminalize both migrants and those who assist them”, she stressed, adding that “the fight against the trafficking of migrants ultimately rests on improving safe pathways for regular migration”.
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