Komotini: 20-year-old asylum seeker sentenced to 4.5 years in prison for driving a car with refugees in Greece

On 7 March 2023, 20-year-old A.D. from Egypt was brought to trial in Komotini, Greece. He has been in Avlona prison for five months, charged with “facilitating the unauthorized entry” of others and himself, and “theft” for driving a car that was stolen.

With the help of some people, A.D. managed to cross the border from Turkey into Greece. Once on the Greek side, he reached the agreed point where a car was to be waiting for him and for an Iraqi family with a baby to drive them to Thessaloniki. When they got there, they found the car but there was no driver. By that time, they had not eaten or drunk for days.
The person who organized the trip told A.D. “either you take the car and go or we will hand you over to the Greek police and say that you are the one who brought the other from the Turkish border to Greece or they will send you back to Turkey”. As by A.D. himself said, he thought “I'm dying of hunger or thirst, I'm choosing between life¬ and death at this moment and I didn't know what to do right but I had no options here”.

During the journey, A.D. was stopped by the police and arrested for transporting people who had previously entered the country irregurarly. He’s been in prison ever since and has applied for asylum. Luckily, during this time, he was not discouraged but instead took the chance to attend the prison’s school with very good results. This condition, together with his clean criminal records, represent the mitigating circumstances which can grant him an early release from prison. Today, since his lawyer has asked for the prosecutor for a deal, he has been condemned to 4,5 years imprisonment, which given the above mentioned circumstances is likely to be reduced.

A.D.’s case is unfortunately not an isolated one, but paradigmatic of yet another facet of Europe's policy of closing borders and deterrence. As documented by CPT - Aegean Migrant Solidarity, borderline-europe and Deportation Monitoring Aegean, the filing of such charges against migrants arriving in Greece has been systematically used by the Greek state for several years.

The basis for this is Greek legislation which considers anyone who has driven a vehicle carrying people seeking protection across Greek borders to be a smuggler. The arrests that follow these often-unfounded accusations of smuggling are arbitrary, and the trials violate basic standards of fairness. Police officers may accuse the person holding the tiller to steer the boat, or the person communicating with the coastguard to call for help, or simply anyone who speaks English, of being a smuggler. Without sufficient evidence, they are usually arrested on arrival and held in pre-trial detention for months. When their case finally comes to court, the average trial lasts only 38 minutes in , leading to an average sentence of 44 years.