Saturday, March 2, 2024

Egyptians accused in Pylos shipwreck case deny smuggling, blame Greece | Refugees Information

Names marked with an asterisk have been modified to guard identities.

Athens, Greece – Saeed* can not perceive why he’s within the Avlona jail, a detention centre northeast of the Greek capital Athens.

“Whoever asks me why you might be in jail, I reply that I don’t know,” mentioned the 21-year-old Egyptian. “We’re kids, we’re terrified. We’re instructed that we’ll be sentenced to 400 or 1,000 years in jail. Each time they are saying that, we die.”

He’s amongst 9 Egyptians in pre-trial detention and charged with prison accountability for a shipwreck off the city of Pylos final 12 months, which led to the deaths of a whole bunch of individuals making an attempt to achieve Europe.

The group is being charged underneath Greek legislation with forming a prison organisation, facilitating unlawful entry and inflicting a shipwreck.

They’re the one individuals being held over the shipwreck.

Nevertheless, Al Jazeera, in partnership with Omnia TV and the Efimerida ton Syntakton newspaper, can reveal that every one 9 accused declare they weren’t among the many smugglers who organised or profited from the journey.

They are saying they had been merely passengers who survived and allege that the Greek Coast Guard brought on the overpacked boat to capsize.

Talking through phone from detention, they instructed Al Jazeera and its companions that the Greek prosecution didn’t precisely take their testimonies and that they pressured them to signal paperwork they didn’t perceive with violence or underneath threats of violence.

Two separate survivors additionally mentioned the 9 accused weren’t responsible and pinned blame on the nationwide Hellenic Coast Guard.

Fearing reprisals for talking out in opposition to the Greek state, all 11 sources requested Al Jazeera to hide their identities and use pseudonyms for this text.

The 9 accused, who embody fathers, staff and college students, mentioned they paid between 140,000 to 150,000 Egyptian kilos ($4,500 to $4,900) to a smuggler or an affiliate to board the doomed boat.

“I’m telling you, I’m somebody who paid 140,000 Egyptian kilos,” mentioned Magdy*, one other of the accused. “If I’m the man who put these individuals on the boat, I’ll have like seven, eight, or 9 thousand euros. Twenty thousand euros. Why on earth would I board a ship like this?”

In 2022, a smuggler instructed The Guardian that he expenses Egyptians about 120,000 Egyptian kilos ($3,900). Latest reporting has discovered that these travelling from Syria typically pay about 6,000 euros (about $6,500) for such a journey.

The 2 different survivors, each Syrians, mentioned they paid cash to individuals however not the accused Egyptians. The 9 being held weren’t concerned in smuggling, they mentioned.

“No. They weren’t responsible for something,” mentioned Ahmed*.

scores of people covering practically every free stretch of deck on a battered fishing boat that later capsized and sank off southern Greece
Folks cowl virtually each free stretch of the deck on the battered fishing boat that later capsized. Picture supplied June 13, 2023 [Hellenic Coast Guard via AP]

On that fateful day final 12 months, June 14, the Adriana, overloaded with an estimated 700-750 individuals, together with Egyptians, Syrians, Pakistanis, Afghans and Palestinians – amongst them kids – capsized. The derelict blue fishing trawler had departed from Libya 5 days earlier.

Solely 84 our bodies had been recovered and 104 on board had been rescued, that means a whole bunch died in one of many worst-recorded refugee boat disasters on the Mediterranean.

Rights teams, activists and a few survivors allege that Greek Coast Guard officers failed of their duties to save lots of lives at sea.

Ahmed mentioned he noticed the 9 accused in the course of the chaos because the ship regarded able to capsize, and passengers started to panic and run about.

“They had been simply directing individuals when our ship began to tilt. They had been shouting for individuals to regular the ship,” he mentioned.

Seven of the accused keep that they noticed a Coast Guard patrol boat tie a rope to the fishing trawler. The Greek officers pulled as soon as, then twice, inflicting the boat to flip over into the Mediterranean, they are saying.

“I noticed the Greek boat had tethered a thick blue rope, one rope, to the center of the boat,” mentioned Fathy*, one other of the accused males. “They pulled, the boat leaned sideways, they noticed it was leaning, they saved going, so the boat was turned the other way up.”

“Greece – a Greek boat, towed us and capsized us – and killed our brothers and mates and now I have a look at myself and I’m in jail.”

Two of the accused said they had been within the maintain and didn’t perceive what had occurred till after catastrophe struck, after they had been on board the Greek Coast Guard boat.

The 2 Syrian survivors instructed Al Jazeera they witnessed the Greek Coast Guard tug the fishing trawler.

“They’d nothing to do with the boat sinking. That’s apparent,” mentioned Mohammad*, of the Egyptians being held.

“It’s important to be logical. It was an enormous boat and wouldn’t have sunk if nobody had intervened. The engine was damaged nevertheless it might have stayed afloat. The Greek Coast Guard is actually answerable for the sinking.”

The Hellenic Coast Guard denied the allegations, saying it has “absolute respect for human life and human rights”.

“Nevertheless, in cooperation with the authorized authorities and different related our bodies, acceptable management mechanisms shall be put in place the place mandatory,” its assertion to Al Jazeera learn.

Initially, the coast guard didn’t seek advice from any rope-related incident in its official statements and its spokesman Nikos Alexiou denied the rope studies.

Nevertheless, Alexiou later mentioned that the 2 boats had been “tied with ropes to stop them from drifting” in an announcement that got here amid rising accounts from survivors.

An ongoing inquiry within the naval court docket of Kalamata goals to find out whether or not the Hellenic Coast Guard carried out search and rescue correctly.

A current Frontex incident report of the Pylos shipwreck discovered that “it seems that the Greek authorities did not well timed declare a search and rescue and to deploy a ample variety of acceptable property in time to rescue the migrants”.

The beginning date of the trial for the 9 accused males has not been set, though in line with Greek legislation, it ought to start inside 18 months from after they had been first detained. If the boys are discovered responsible, they may face a long time in jail.

‘After I signed, he hit me’

The 9 males say they supplied their testimonies on the Kalamata police station the day after the shipwreck underneath duress. They had been pressured to signal paperwork in Greek that they may not perceive, they mentioned.

Two mentioned that law enforcement officials and translators current in the course of the interrogation beat or kicked them.

Saber* mentioned he was given papers in Greek and expressed that he didn’t wish to signal them.

“[The interpreter] instructed me that he would signal subsequent to my signature. As if nothing occurred,” he mentioned. “After I signed, he hit me.”

Saber* mentioned he noticed the police kick one other one of many accused within the chest.

The Hellenic Police didn’t reply to requests for touch upon these allegations.

Greece has lengthy been accused by rights teams of unfairly accusing harmless individuals of smuggling – and sentencing them.

Dimitris Choulis, a lawyer on the defence who has spent years engaged on comparable circumstances with the Samos Human Rights Authorized Challenge, sees this episode as one other instance of the “criminalisation of refugees”.

“We see the identical patterns and the identical unwillingness from the authorities to really examine what occurred,” Choulis instructed Al Jazeera.

A 2021 report by the German charity Border Monitoring discovered at the least 48 circumstances on the islands of Chios and Lesbos alone of individuals serving jail time, saying they “didn’t revenue in any means from the smuggling enterprise”.

Choulis mentioned that smuggling trials used to final simply 20 minutes and end in sentences of fifty years in jail.

That is in step with studies from watchdog teams resembling Borderline-Europe that smuggling trials in Greece are rushed and “issued on the idea of restricted and questionable proof”.

The Lesbos Authorized Heart, which can be engaged on the defence of the 9 Egyptians, bemoaned a extreme lack of proof, saying the investigation file is predicated “virtually solely” on a handful of testimonies taken in “questionable circumstances”.

Moreover, Al Jazeera has reviewed leaked paperwork from the court docket case, together with a criticism filed by the defendant’s legal professionals that an knowledgeable report from a marine engineer and a naval mechanical engineer – ordered as part of the investigation – used minimal proof: three images, two movies, and one e mail. The report didn’t account for the overturning and sinking of the ship, the criticism alleged.

The defence additional questioned the impartiality of the appointed specialists and said that procedures concerning how the defendants needs to be notified of this knowledgeable report weren’t adopted.

Al Jazeera reviewed the response; the Kalamata Public Prosecutor dismissed the criticism, arguing {that a} additional knowledgeable report could be redundant and that the procedures had been actually adopted accurately.

“I firmly imagine that the Hellenic Coast Guard brought on the shipwreck,” mentioned Choulis. “And the Hellenic Coast Guard carried out all the pre-investigation of this case, they usually ordered the marine engineer to do the evaluation. I suppose it’s clear the issue right here.”

4 of the accused males mentioned they handed water to individuals sitting subsequent to them.

Choulis defined that in earlier trafficking circumstances, giving individuals water has certified as smuggling.

“We’ve seen the authorities charging individuals, and in Pylos the identical, for acts like offering water, distributing meals, having a telephone, taking movies, trying on the GPS, contacting the authorities, trapping a rope to tow their boat to be rescued and so on.”

Gamal* can not perceive how handing somebody water is taken into account smuggling.

“After all, if in case you have a bottle of water in your hand and somebody subsequent to you is dying of thirst, gained’t you give them water?” he mentioned from jail. “No. Right here, that is thought of human trafficking.”

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