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29th Apr 2021

Refugee fleeing Syrian civil war sentenced to 52 years in Greek prison over ‘illegal’ crossing

Charlie Herbert

The refugee had crossed from Turkey with his family

A Syrian refugee has been sentenced to 52 years in prison by a Greek court for “illegally” crossing into the country. The sentence was handed out as Greece tries to crack down on illegal migrations into the country from Turkey.

The refugee was only identified by the initials KS in court, and was handed the sentence at a court on the Greek island of Lesbos on Friday.

The Independent reports that according to campaigners the man made the trip with his family, including his three young children, and dozens of other refugees in March 2020. They had seeking refuge in Turkey after fleeing from the civil war in their home country of Syria.

However, KS claims that he was briefly imprisoned there as a result of not wanting to participate in the Turkish military operation in Libya.

As a result, he and his family tried to escape to Greece once he was released. When they arrived on the island of Chios, they were denied the right to asylum because of a controversial policy that had been introduced earlier that month.

At the start of March 2020, Greece introduced a policy that temporarily blocked new asylum applications for at least a month after Turkey “opened the doors” for migrants to travel to the EU.

Greece said that it would “protect” its borders, with Greek Prime Minister Mitsotakis telling migrants and asylum seekers that if they attempted “to enter Greece illegally” they would be turned back.

KS was just one of many who were hit with illegal entry charges. He was also accused of “facilitating illegal entry” and causing a “shipwreck” as Greek authorities accused him of having been at the helm of the boat that made the crossing. He was convicted of the first two charges.

Campaigners have said that there is no proof that the refugee was the one steering the boat, and his family maintain that he was only a passenger.

Johannes Körner, a spokesperson for You Can’t Evict Solidarity – a campaign supporting asylum seekers in Greece – told the Independent: “They want to show people to stay away from Greece and to criminalise people who are fleeing.

“He will be sitting in prison for nothing… for just fleeing Turkey and fleeing Syria.

“It’s insane, it’s crazy that he’s been given such a long sentence.”

Körner said that KS’s sentence could be reduced after 10 or 20 years. His family are currently living at a refugee camp in Greece.

Greece has received several warnings from the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) over its reported pushback in the Aegean Sea.

Forcibly turning back would-be asylum seekers is against European and international law. However UNHCR has recorded hundreds of cases of suspected pushbacks since the beginning of 2020.

Despite urges for these to be investigated, the country has denied the accusations, with the country’s migration minister branding reports of pushbacks as fake news.