LONDON: A Syrian refugee has been jailed for 52 years by a court on the Greek island of Lesbos after he was convicted of “illegal entry” into the country.
The man, identified by the initials KS in court, arrived at the Greek island of Chios from Turkey by boat with his wife and three young children alongside up to 40 others in March 2020.
They were denied the right to asylum, and KS was detained on additional charges of “facilitating illegal entry” and causing a “shipwreck” after Greek authorities accused him of piloting the craft — something denied by campaigners supporting him.
KS was cleared of the charge of causing a shipwreck, but still faces decades behind bars even with a sentence reduction, while his family remain in a refugee camp.
Having fled Syria, KS said he was imprisoned in Turkey for refusing to take part in Turkish military operations in Libya.
Upon his release, he and his family decided to try to reach Europe after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he would let asylum seekers and migrants leave for EU states because Ankara lacked the resources to cope with their numbers and the bloc was not pulling its weight in assisting with the humanitarian crisis.
This led to large numbers of migrants and refugees leaving for Greece. But many fell foul of new draconian measures hurriedly imposed by the country as Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis approved a temporary block on all asylum applications, saying Athens would “protect its borders” and turn people back.
Campaigners supporting KS say his harsh sentence is a reflection of Greece’s hostility toward migrants and asylum seekers.
Johannes Korner, spokesperson for the You Can’t Evict Solidarity campaign group, told The Independent: “They want to show people to stay away from Greece and to criminalize people who are fleeing. It’s crazy that he’s been given such a long sentence.”
Meanwhile, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has warned Greece that the policy of pushing back refugees crossing the Aegean Sea from Turkey could be illegal under EU and international law.
The UNHCR says it has received allegations of hundreds of pushback cases since March 2020, and has urged Athens to investigate.