We welcome the decision in the trial of the twenty-four rescue workers in Greece. However, it is only an important first step, not a victory. 

The trial of the twenty-four volunteers has started on the Greek island of Lesbos early this week, more than four years after they were arrested for carrying out rescue missions for people on the move. Their case was presented in a European Parliament report as Europe’s “largest case of criminalisation of solidarity”. They were facing outrageous accusations of smuggling, espionage and revealing state secrets.

Among the defendants was refugee and swimmer Sarah Mardini. Together with her sister Yusra, she helped save others on board the boat they were travelling on from Syria. Yusra Mardini went on to take part in the Rio and Tokyo Olympics as part of a refugee team. Their story inspired a recent movie. 

In a new court hearing, taking place on Friday, 13 January, the judges accepted the prosecutor’s recommendations to drop all charges, as well as charges for espionage in the case of Sara Mardini and twenty two others. The prosecutor’s recommendation to drop charges in the case of foreign defendants was based on procedure: the lack of translation. 

Still, charges for forgery against one defendant and support for criminal organisation against another remain, and will be remanded to competent court. All the defendants are still facing felony charges. 

We stand with all those risking their freedom to save others and will continue to fight for a humane EU migration policy that does not criminalise solidarity.

MEP Kostas Arvanitis (Syriza, Greece) declared:  “The EU has either played a part in creating these situations or has refused to resolve them. Instead, it dubs the victims, or their saviours, “criminals.” This practice is far removed from the basic principles of democracy and the Rule of Law. The criminalisation of rescue is a crime.”

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