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Urge EU Parliamentarians to end the criminalization of migrants

March 24, 2021

Write to European Parliamentarians to urge them to act and end the criminalization of migrants. Over the last ten years, the Greek Coast Guard and European Frontex have systematically arrested anyone driving boats ferrying migrants across the Mediterranean. Thousands have been arrested and are being held without access to legal remedy in detention centers and prisons, either serving their lengthy sentences or awaiting their trials. The imprisoned will most likely be convicted without a fair trial and a lack of evidence.

Copy the letter below and send it to your Parliamentarian at the European Parliament.

Members of the Parliament of the Hellenic Republic
Members of the European Parliament (MEPs), and
Members of national parliaments within the EU

CPT-Aegean Migrant Solidarity (AMS) and its partners have observed 48 trials of 55 persons on the islands of Lesvos and Chios from 2014 to 2019. Each of these persons has been accused of human smuggling. According to the prosecutors, they were either seen or assumed to be steering a boat that transported migrants from Turkey to the Greek Islands. The accused include construction workers, cafe workers, and travelers, most of whom speak Turkish, Farsi, Arabic, or Kurdish, originating from various countries. 

According to the Hellenic Ministry of Justice, in 2019, 1905 persons (pre-trial detainees and remand prisoners) accused of human smuggling were kept in Greek police stations or prisons and represented 20% of the prison population in Greece.

The Greek justice system systematically violated the right to a fair trial outlined by The European Convention on Human Rights in the cases observed by AMS, particularly articles 5 and 6 of the ECHR. In many of the trial proceedings observed by AMS, the accused were convicted with sentences exceeding a human lifetime—even persons convicted of murder have shorter terms of incarceration. The average duration of the 48 trials was 38 minutes, the longest being 75 minutes and the quickest, just 15 minutes. The accelerated process does not allow for a careful examination of the evidence or the witnesses, nor is there sufficient time to prepare a defence respecting the defendant’s circumstances. In seven joint trials – where two or more individuals are tried together – individuals received the same sentence without assessing their individual guilt and without regard to the nature of their respective defences, despite the differences in their cases and motivations. 

AMS observed a systemic failure to provide proper legal representation of persons accused of human smuggling. According to testimonies collected by AMS, many accused did not even know the charges against them—a clear violation of Article 6(3) of the ECHR. Many of the arrested spend one whole year in detention without legal counsel or the ability to inform their families of their whereabouts (telephone services are not free of charge for detainees). Lawyers provided by the bar association usually meet the accused, for the first time, at the courtroom on the day of their trial.

The trials were conducted in Greek with inadequate or inappropriate interpretation, making it nearly impossible for the accused to understand their own trial. One accused told AMS that his interpreter did not even speak his language. The case of Come E. M. (Chios, 18 October 2016) is a tragic example. When Come E. M. requested a new interpreter because he did not understand the interpretation, both the public prosecutor and the judge rejected the request. He was sentenced to 86 years in prison.

AMS observed stark differences and inconsistencies in sentences depending on the respective juries. In some cases, penalties administered by juries far exceed the recommendation of the public prosecutor. Similarly, juries also rejected the request of the public prosecutor to acquit charges or weigh mitigating circumstances when they consider sentencing. In the five cases that the AMS observed on 17 October 2016 in Chios, the public prosecutor asked the jury to consider the mitigating circumstances of the accused. In four of the five cases, the jury rejected the request and administered penalties that exceeded what the public prosecutor had recommended. Article 6(1) of the ECHR requires an impartial tribunal.  

The account of one single witness, usually a member of the Greek Coast Guard, is the basis of many convictions. Often, the witness will claim to recognize the defendant from an event or arrest that happened months ago, even if the witness was not involved in the arrest. Additionally, in several cases, the court refrained from investigating allegations of beatings by the Greek Coast Guard or Greek police brought by the defendants.

We urge: 

  • members of the European Parliament sitting in legal committees to initiate inquiries into the systemic misapplication of judicial principles in the public debates of the Parliament 
  • members of the European Parliament sitting in legal committees to raise these issues in private dialogue with members of the Greek Parliament, 
  • members of FRONTEX Management Board to investigate the role of FRONTEX in providing questionable evidence to these court cases, 
  • the Court of Justice of the European Communities, responsible for overseeing the uniform application and interpretation of European Union law, investigate these systemic abuses which ignore European legal principles,
  • individual members of the Greek Parliament to inquire into these systemic abuses of the Greek justice system on the islands of Chios and Lesvos,
  • the Greek government stop violating the European Human Rights Convention,
  • the Greek government to reexamine the systemic confusion of the definitions of a smuggler and refugee,
  • the Greek courts to abide by the principles of the EHRC,
  • the Greek judicial system to review the cases of persons convicted of human smuggling in the courts of Chios and Mytilini and provide redress for those wrongfully convicted.

Read "Incarcerating the Marginalized."

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