Greece: 24 NGO Workers in Court for Migrant Trafficking

A dinghy transporting 27 refugees and migrants originating from Gambia and the Republic of Congo is pulled towards Lesbos island after being rescued by a war ship during their sea crossing between Turkey and Greece on February 29, 2020. - Greece blocked hundreds of migrants trying to enter the country …
ARIS MESSINIS/AFP via Getty Images

The trial for 24 NGO workers in Greece began this week as they face allegations of aiding human trafficking and people smuggling that took place between 2016 and 2018.

The workers, who worked for the NGO Erci (Emergency Response Center International), were supposed to face trial in November of 2021 but the trial had been postponed.

Members of Erci are accused of various charges including aiding in the smuggling of illegal immigrants, with one of the defendants, German national Sean Binder, being initially arrested in 2018 for espionage, forgery and unlawful use of radio frequencies, the newspaper Ekathimerini reports.

Binder commented outside the courtroom on the case on Tuesday saying, “What is on trial today is human rights. That is the fundamental problem.”

“We are desperate to go to trial because what we did was legal,” he said and added, “And we need the judge to acknowledge that we need to get through this, because until then, there is a shadow of doubt, not over me alone, but over anybody who does search and rescue.”

Sarah Mardini, a Syrian refugee herself and competitive swimmer, is also facing trial in the case but was not present on Tuesday at the courtroom. Mardini and her sister Yusra were the subjects of a Netflix film and her sister competed in the Olympic games in 2016 and 2021.

Human rights groups have also slammed the trial including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, which stated that the trial is “politically motivated.”

Greece has seen several investigations of NGOs believed to be tied to or working with people smugglers in recent years. In October of last year, the Greek coastguard announced it had launched an investigation into two NGOs suspected of aiding people-smugglers.

The investigation came after it was discovered that a man linked to smugglers had been sending lists of migrants crossing by boats to local NGOs prior to their voyage.

The aforementioned espionage charges against the group have been rejected by the courts, mainly on procedural grounds, but the trafficking-related charges remain.

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


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