Meanwhile, the Ocean Viking still waits for Europe to allow 306 refugees to come ashore
GREECE must drop the charges brought against the father of a six-year-old boy who died in a shipwreck in the Aegean Sea last year and another man who piloted the boat, refugee rights campaigners have demanded.
The two men, known as N and Hasan who fled Afghanistan with their families, attempted to cross the sea that separates Greece from Turkey in a rubber boat with 22 others on November 7, 2020.
As the boat drew close to the Greek island of Samos, it hit the cliffs and capsized, flinging all 24 passengers overboard.
Although the Greek Coastguard was notified about the emergency, it took them several hours to arrive at the scene.
Survivors of the shipwreck have said that they twice saw a coastguard vessel approach the scene but it did not rescue them.
The body of N’s son was found the next morning, as was a heavily pregnant woman who survived and gave birth three days later.
N, 25, was arrested soon after. It was only after pressure from his lawyer and the United Nation’s refugee agency (UNHCR) that the police allowed N to go to the morgue to identify his son’s body.
He was placed in pre-trial detention and was the first asylum seeker ever to be charged with “endangering the life of a child.”
N says his treatment has been inhumane.
“They were really cruel to me. I lost my son. He drowned in the water. On top of that, they arrested me in that horrible situation and put me in prison,” he said in a statement released by the Free the Samos 2 campaign group — an amalgamation of 70 refugee rescue and support groups from across Europe, including Abolish Frontex, Alarm Phone, borderline-europe, Mare Liberum, ResQship, Sea-Watch and more.
“They say it is the law. This cannot be the law. This is inhumane. This must be illegal. Are they really going to blame me for the death of my son? He was everything I had. I essentially came here for my son.”
The authorities also arrested Hasan, 23, because he piloted the boat at some point in the journey. He has been charged with the “transportation of 24 third-country nationals into Greek territory without permission,” “endangering the lives of 23 others,” and for causing the death of N’s son.
He is facing a life sentence for the death of one person plus a further 10 years imprisonment per transported person, amounting to 230 years in total.
N, however, does not blame Hasan for his son’s death.
“No matter how many times you repeat it, it was not the driver’s fault,” he said.
“He is just a migrant and his family was also there, he didn’t do anything wrong, he is not to be blamed. I just ask for this, I want this person to be released.”
N has filed a lawsuit against the Greek coastguard for delaying the rescue and failing to assist them.
“The shipwreck and the death of N’s son were neither the fault of N and Hasan, nor were they an unfortunate tragedy,” Free the Samos 2 said in a statement published on Monday.
“They are the direct result of the EU’s escalating closure of borders, leaving people
with no alternative than to risk their lives and those of their families on increasingly life-threatening journeys.
“N and Hasan are being scapegoated to divert attention from the EU’s responsibility for these deaths, shifting the blame to those already suffering the most.
“In its attempt to stop people from coming to Europe by any means necessary, the EU is resorting to ever more cruel and absurd measures.”
The organisations have issued the following demands:
• that all charges brought against N and Hasan are dropped;
• that the travel ban on N is lifted, so that he can travel to his sister in Austria and find some consolation;
• the freedom of all those imprisoned for driving boats to Europe, especially since there is no other alternative to reach the European Union,
• and an end to the criminalisation of migration and the incarceration of people on the move
Meanwhile, in the Mediterranean, 306 people aboard the Ocean Viking refugee rescue ship are still waiting to be allowed to come ashore.
SOS Mediterranee‘s ship began rescues in the central Mediterranean last Tuesday and has made at least nine requests for the European authorities to provide it with a safe port to disembark the rescued.
The charity quoted the following to an unaccompanied 12-year-old child aboard the Ocean Viking today: “I did not have any strength there; I could not get up. There is no freedom in Libya, we are locked up, I have been forced to work, only to get barely enough to eat. The sea was the only option.”