M.A. reached Greece with his family on 10 September 2023 in a rubber dinghy. He is from Aleppo (Syria) and is in danger there because he is wanted by the Syrian authorities. However, he, himself a protection seeker, was charged with facilitating the illegal entry (smuggling) of 48 other protection seekers into Greek territory because he was at the steering wheel of the boat. He was facing a prison sentence of 10-15 years for each person on the boat.
The accusation was based on two witnesses and a video showing him at the wheel. M.A. admitted to steer the boat, but said he was forced to do so because the smuggler left the boat and their life was in danger. He was travelling with his pregnant wife and their two children to seek asylum.

The defence focused on his identity as an asylum seeker, which should exclude him from the criminalisation of illegal entry and therefore also from the charge of illegally transferring the other asylum seekers. His lawyer, DIMITRIOS CHOULIS from the Human Rights Legal Project (HRLP) Samos, emphasised the complete lack of evidence for the aggravating circumstance of profit-making. His wife also testified in court as a witness for the defence.

The court did not acquit him, but accepted that there was no evidence of profiteering. It also accepted as a mitigating circumstance that he had not committed the act with malicious motives (which is extremely rare in judgements on “smugglers”) and imposed a custodial sentence of “only” 2 years for each person in the boat. However, the court accepted the application for suspensive effect, which means that M.A. has been released and is awaiting his appeal court outside prison. We hope that by the time of the appeal court, the asylum case for M.A. or at least for his family will move forward so that an acquittal can be sought on the basis of his refugee status.

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