Greece is locking up people assisting illegal migrants

(AP Photo/Nikolia Apostolou)

Here in the United States, we’re still dealing with the Biden border crisis on a daily basis. But in Greece, that country continues to face wave after wave of migrants attempting to cross the sea from Turkey so they can make their way to various European nations. While most of Europe, including Greece, was initially tolerant of and at least somewhat sympathetic toward the people fleeing wars and famine in their home countries, that patience has long since begun to wear thin. Boats and rafts commanded by smugglers continue to be filled with migrants who are in violation of the law if they enter the country without the proper documentation. Now the Greeks are taking more firm steps to discourage this activity and activists are outraged. The Greeks still aren’t prosecuting the migrants themselves, or at least not to a great degree. They prefer to turn them back toward where they came from. But the people found to be operating the craft carrying the migrants have been regularly arrested and prosecuted stiffly. Some of them are now serving what amount to life sentences in prison. (Associated Press)

Among the prison inmates of the Greek island of Chios, three young men from Afghanistan and Somalia are serving dramatically long sentences: 50 years for two of them, a staggering 142 for the third.

But these are not violent criminals, even according to their trial verdicts. They were convicted for steering inflatable dinghies carrying them and other migrants after they say smugglers abandoned them in the Aegean Sea between Turkey and Greece.

“I didn’t think saving people is a crime,” said Hanad Abdi Mohammad, 28, a soft-spoken Somali charged as a smuggler after arriving in Greece last December and sentenced to 142 years.

Some of those sentences definitely sound harsh. But when you’re charged with human smuggling and the charges can be levied for each individual being smuggled, the penalities can add up quickly if you have a whole boatload of people.

Not everyone serving time appears to be an actual professional human trafficker, however, at least if their stories are to be believed. The guy who is doing 142 years told reporters that he was supposedly one of the migrants himself. But as the raft they were on approached the Greek islands, the smuggler who was bringing them across struck him and threatened him with a gun, forcing him to take over steering the raft while the smuggler abandoned them to leave in a second ship. If that’s the case, then I would agree he got a raw deal, but it’s not always easy to identify all of the people making the crossing.

A lot of the people being charged are described as NGO workers who assist migrants with requesting asylum. They’re claiming that the Greek government is practicing an intimidation campaign to stop foreign aid workers from assisting the migrants. For their part, the Greek government denies the charges and insists that it is enforcing a “tough but fair” immigration policy.

There’s no denying that many of these migrants are fleeing harsh conditions back in their home countries. Of course, the same could be said for many of the illegal aliens leaving the Northern Triangle countries in Central America to pass through Mexico and attempt to illegally enter the United States. And much like America, Greece and the other European nations on the Mediterranian have their own immigration laws to enforce and a limit as to how many people they can help before the system is overwhelmed.

It’s a sad situation all the way around, but the Greeks are responsible for enforcing their own laws at the end of the day. Dealing with human traffickers is a bigger and more pressing challenge than the migrants themselves, and the traffickers frequently represent a greater threat to the welfare of the migrants than the elements do. If they are actually prosecuting NGO workers who are not trafficking anyone, that should certainly be looked into. But otherwise, these “helpers” need to realize that they are breaking the law when they transport illegal migrants and they may face significant penalties.