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(Syriza should rot in hell.)
NY Times, Sept. 28, 2018
She Was Called a Hero for Helping Fellow Refugees. Doing So Got Her
By Richard Pérez-Peña
Not long ago, Sarah and Yusra Mardini were hailed as heroes, Syrian
refugees and competitive swimmers credited with saving lives on a
perilous sea voyage to Europe by slipping into the water and pushing
their foundering boat toward shore. Later, they dedicated themselves to
helping other migrants, and Yusra Mardini went on to swim at the Olympics.
Now Sarah Mardini and at least four other members of a migrant aid group
are in Greek jails, facing charges including espionage, violation of
state secrecy laws and criminal enterprise — offenses that could keep
them locked up for decades.
The group “was active in the systematic facilitation of illegal entrance
of foreigners,” the Greek police said in a statement after the initial
arrests, and violated the country’s Migration Code — the same charge
used against those paid to smuggle people.
Their defenders insist that the group did nothing but gather
information, and use it to save people from drowning and to provide them
with humanitarian aid. The government, they say, is trying to
criminalize these acts.
Last week, the founder of the group, Panos G. Moraitis, said in an
interview with Lesvosnews.gr, a news site, that some of its members were
in “detention under surreal charges, especially if one considers how
closely we have been cooperating with the authorities.”
Then he, too, was arrested.
The case reflects how much has changed since the summer of 2015, when
the Mardini sisters arrived in an immense wave of refugees and economic
migrants to Europe, mostly from the Middle East and Africa. On the
beaches of Greece, many local residents turned out to provide food,
blankets and shelter. Germany adopted an open-door policy, eventually
taking in more than a million migrants.
The surge was never without opposition, but attitudes across the
Continent have hardened significantly over three years, with nativist
political movements rising even as the human tide has ebbed. Compassion
fatigue has set in, resources have been stretched, and the nations of
Europe — even Germany — have taken steps to make it harder to get in,
and harder to win permission to stay.
There have been a few previous cases like the one involving Mr.
Moraitis’s group, Emergency Response Center International; in May, a
Greek court acquitted three Spaniards and two Danes who volunteered for
other aid groups of charges of aiding illegal immigration. But activists
said the charges against Sarah Mardini and the others were a significant
“Things have taken a quick, abrupt turn to the worse, without any
obvious reason,” said Vasilis Spirou, Mr. Moraitis’s lawyer.
The Mardini sisters fled the civil war in Syria, made their way across
Turkey and were herded by smugglers onto a flimsy boat to cross a few
miles of Aegean waters to reach the Greek islands. Hundreds of thousands
of people made similar crossings — and thousands died trying — but the
sisters’ story had an extraordinary twist.
As night fell, their overloaded dinghy began filling with water and its
motor failed; most of the 20 people aboard did not know how to swim. So
Sarah, then 20, and Yusra, 17, and two men went into the sea and swam,
for hours, in the dark, the sisters said, pushing the boat to the island
Months later, after they settled in Germany, their tale drew worldwide
attention when Yusra was selected for the first-ever refugee Olympic
team, to compete in the 2016 games in Rio de Janeiro. She wrote a book
about her experiences, which is being made into a film, and became a
“good-will ambassador” for the Office of the United Nations High
Commissioner for Refugees.
Around the same time the Mardinis left Syria, Mr. Moraitis, the chief
executive of a maritime security business, founded Emergency Response
Center International, one of hundreds of organizations that responded to
the migration crisis. When migrants are at risk of drowning, the group
sends boats to rescue them, and it provides services to those who reach
Sarah Mardini — whose sister wrote of her, “no one can get her to stay
quiet” — began volunteering with the group in 2016.
In late August, she was arrested as she waited to catch a flight back to
Germany, where she was enrolled at Bard College Berlin. Also arrested
around the same time were two Greek citizens who work for the group,
Nassos Karakitsos and Mirella Alexou, and a German volunteer for it,
Weeks passed before the authorities acknowledged holding any of them,
though their detention had been widely reported, based on the accounts
of friends and co-workers. Under Greek law, they can be held for up to
18 months before trial.
In their only official statement on the case, made almost a month ago,
the police said that in all, six Greeks and 24 foreigners were
complicit, though it was not clear how many would be charged.
Prosecutors declined to comment.
The two sides agree that the group used radios, telescopes, WhatsApp
message groups and simple observation to gather and share detailed
information on the movements of migrants in Turkey and on the sea,
including the geographic coordinates of specific boats, the number of
people aboard, and where and when they were expected to arrive.
The police said the group had withheld much of that information from the
Coast Guard and other authorities, which it denies.
The police say that through its actions, the group effectively “gave
direct assistance to organized refugee trafficking rings” and committed
“the illegal interception of radio communications” from the Greek Coast
Guard and other authorities. Group representatives say the messages were
on publicly accessible channels.
The police said the motive of the group, which runs on donors’
contributions, was to profit from illegal deeds, making it a criminal
But in his interview last week, Mr. Moraitis said the group’s actions
were both legal and selfless. Its original aim, and still its core
purpose, he said, was “to help and rescue human life in the sea.”
Follow Richard Pérez-Peña on Twitter: @perezpena.
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