A Syrian refugee attempted to cross into Greece from Turkey like so many before him, but has been given an extraordinary punishment for it.
A Syrian refugee has been sentenced to 52 years in prison for crossing into Greece from Turkey last year, the Independent reported on Wednesday.
A Mytiline court on the Greek island of Lesbos announced the decision last Friday on KS, the refugee identified only by his initials, ruling that his crossing was “illegal.”
KS took a boat to Greece’s Chios island with his family, including three children and others last March, after Ankara announced that it wouldn’t prevent refugees who want to cross into Europe in February.
The decision was met with shock and criticism among experts and social media users.
“Is there some kind of contest between EU member states to see which one can ignore the EU Charter of Rights and act in the most outrageously cruel & inhumane way?” said Andrew Stroehlein, Human Rights Watch’s Media Director in a tweet.
“For comparison in Greece: The neo-Nazi Golden Dawn leaders got 13 years for creating & running a criminal organization that orchestrated numerous racist attacks, including fatal ones, & many other crimes. Last year, a 32-year-old man was sentenced to 4 years in prison for rape,” Stroehlein said.
For photojournalist, Nicola Zolin, waking up to the news seemed like a bad joke.
According to the European Union Charter of Rights, asylum is a fundamental right with which European countries are bound to comply should the person be stateless or fleeing persecution. Syria’s ten-year war, which shows no sign of abating, has forced millions of people to flee their homes in search of safety
Turkey, which hosts a record number of Syrian refugees - around 4 million - complains that European states have failed to share their responsibility for welcoming refugees.
Thousands of people who had no other options open to them, flooded to Turkish coasts in order to cross into Europe via Greece. Among them, KS and his family arrived in Chios, the closest island by boat.
Greece has responded with a harsh crackdown on refugees who reach its coastlines; heavily armed border guards have used tear gas, rubber bullets, and razor wire to prevent their entry.
After Ankara’s decision, Athens also introduced a new asylum policy blocking requests from refugees who entered the country in March. Nearly 2,000 new arrivals have been detained in overcrowded camps. Greece has been planning to deport them despite concerns about their rights as well as their safety.
What human rights organisations call “illegal push backs” against boats of people who attempt to approach the Greek coasts, have continued throughout the year. One incident of a massive pushback was taken to the European Court of Human Rights on April 12.
Both the European Union and the United Nations have repeatedly condemned the attacks in the past and called for an investigation into the incidents. Athens, on the other hand, has denied accusations of mistreatment. There has been no acknowledgement nor investigation regarding the accusations.
“Illegal entry” is not the only allegation that KS faced. Greek authorities also accused him of “facilitating illegal entry” and since he was in charge of the boat, claimed he was responsible for the “shipwreck.”
KS also claims that he was briefly detained in Turkey for refusing to participate in Ankara’s operation in Libya, but there has been no verification of this statement.
In total, the three charges could cost KS 93 years in prison. He was cleared of the first two charges, with his family saying that he was a passenger like 40 others in the boat.
It is possible that KS’s current sentence could be dropped to 10 or 20 years in prison, Johannes Korner, spokesperson for You Can’t Evict Solidarity, a non-governmental organisation, told the Independent.
“It’s crazy that he’s been given such a long sentence,” Korner said.