Greece: NGO Workers Face 25 Years in Prison for Aiding Illegals

Defendant Sean Binder from Germany answers journalists' questions outside the court of Mytilene in the island of Lesbos on November 18, 2021. - The trial of two dozen humanitarian activists who helped migrants reach Greece three years ago was adjourned on November 18, 2021 shortly after opening and moved to …

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”.

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.

Follow Chris Tomlinson on Twitter at @TomlinsonCJ or email at ctomlinson(at)


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