Samos: 23 year-old Syrian faces 10 years imprisonment as 'boat driver' only for having turned his GPS on

+++UPDATE: On Monday, 14th of February, G.N. was acquitted: for the first time the procedure was perfect and just. +++

In February 2022, the Syrian 23-year-old G.N. had to stand trial in Samos, Greece. He was charged by Greek authorities with ‘unauthorized entry’ and ‘facilitation of unautorized entry’, facing ten years imprisonment.

G.N. fled Syria because of the ongoing war there and because he would probably have been drafted into the army because of his age. Therefore, he left the country hoping to find a safer and better life in Europe. In October 2019, G.N. tried to reach Greece on a boat together with 49 other people. During the crossing, the boat was intercepted and the people were taken to the Greek island of Samos.

On the island, he was accused of steering the boat and thus of being a smuggler. He denied this and also stated that the person steering the boat was "just a refugee like everyone else who was in the boat". Two other passengers confirmed his innocence in a written statement, saying that he was only one of them and that he had never steered the boat.

According to G.N., the only evidence the Coast Guard cited to "identify" him as the boat driver was the mere fact that he turned on his GPS when they were lost at sea. He stressed how unfair it was that he was accused of a crime when he was just a person seeking protection and safety.

As documented by CPT - Aegean Migrant Solidarity, borderline-europe and Deportation Monitoring Aegean, the filing of such charges against migrants arriving on the Greek islands has been systematically used by the Greek state for several years.  

The basis for this is Greek legislation that considers any person found to have driven a vehicle across Greek borders carrying people seeking protection as a smuggler. The arrests that follow these often-unfounded accusations of smuggling are arbitrary, and the trials flout basic standards of fairness. Police officers might accuse the person holding the tiller to steer the boat, or the one who communicated with the coast guard to call for help, or simply someone who speaks English, of being a smuggler. Without sufficient evidence, they are usually arrested upon arrival and kept in pre-trial detention for months. When their case finally comes to court, their trials average only 38 minutes in length, leading to an average sentence of 44 years and fines over 370.000 Euro.

Fortunately, this case was different and we are happy to announce that the defendant was acquitted. As his lawyer Dimitris Choulis explained:
"It was the first time I have witnessed a court like it is supposed to be: strict bur fair, with a prosecutor searching for the truth and not a scapegoat".

Even though this case had a positive outcome, there are still many cases of this kind in Greece that need to be brought to justice. For this reason, we call on Greece and the European Union to stop criminalising people for seeking safety, to end the arbitrary detention of refugees and migrants for steering the boat, and to ensure the acquittal and immediate release of those whose future is still at risk.


Further information:


Monday, 14 February 2022