The trial of 24 NGO workers accused of aiding illegal migration, espionage, and people trafficking opened in Lesbos, Greece, on Thursday.
The 24 NGO workers from the group Emergency Response Center International (ERCI) could face up to 25 years in prison for their alleged activities.
The suspects were involved in transporting migrants attempting to cross illegally by boat to the island between 2016 and 2018.
Greek prosecutors, however, alleged that the group is a criminal organisation and claim that they have been involved in money laundering, espionage, disclosing state secrets, and human trafficking, according to I Kathimerini.
Rights groups have criticised the legal proceedings, including Amnesty International which called the charges “grotesque” and claimed that the case “shows how far the Greek authorities are willing to go to discourage people from helping refugees and migrants”.
The group Human Rights Watch (HRW) claimed the trial was “politically motivated”.
German NGOs Accused of Spying on Greek Border Authorities to Help Smuggle Migrants https://t.co/6rY0RkaJzG
— Breitbart London (@BreitbartLondon) October 6, 2020
Syrian migrant Sarah Mardini is one of the defendants in the case and had been placed in pre-trial detention for three months in 2018. She became known in 2015 after helping to rescue 20 passengers of an adrift boat along with her sister. Mardini lives in Germany and has been banned from entering Greece and will be represented in court by a lawyer.
German national Sean Binder, a trained rescue diver, was also arrested in 2018 and spent 107 days in a maximum security facility in pre-trial detention. Binder later left Greece but has since returned to stand trial.
The ECRI is not the only NGO to face accusations of aiding illegal immigration to Greece in recent years. A police investigation last year named several NGOs as having members who have aided people smugglers in Turkey.
The pro-migrant activists were said to have recorded communications between Greek officials and used the NGO Alarmphone to coordinate the positions of migrant boats to avoid Greek authorities.
A Greek newspaper has blamed NGOs for a surge of arrivals of African migrants, mainly from Somalia, claiming that between 2,000 and 2,500 migrants are currently in Turkey being helped to enter Greece illegally. https://t.co/i7L6RRRu9Q
— Breitbart News (@BreitbartNews) December 20, 2020