A fair trial for Amir Zahiri and Akif Razuli: Seeking asylum is not a crime

A fair trial for Amir Zahiri and Akif Razuli: Seeking asylum is not a crime

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On the 17th of March 2022, Amir Zahiri (26 years old) and Akif Razuli (25 years old), two Afghani nationals, will be facing an appeal trial in Lesvos, Greece.

Both are facing a 50-year sentence after travelling from Turkey to Greece in March 2020 to claim asylum. During this journey, the Greek Coast Guard punctured their boat in an attempt to push them back to Turkish waters; they were taken on board, beaten and sent directly to pre-trial detention. Their convictions of “facilitating illegal entry” were based on the testimony of one Greek Coast Guard. Evidence that the real smuggler had left the boat one kilometre into the journey was dismissed, and no consideration was given to the fact that Zahiri was travelling with his pregnant wife and infant child.

This case is just one example* of the systemic and silent persecution of thousands of asylum seekers in Greece and across the EU. The prosecution of asylum seekers on the grounds of “facilitating illegal entry” often leads to them being arrested without legal assistance, excessive pre-trail detention, lack of translations and representation by unprepared lawyers. Often, they are even unaware of the “crimes” they have committed.

Their treatment marks the complete transgression of the rule of law in Europe and violation of the fundamental right to a fair trial, liberty and security and the prohibition of inhumane degrading treatment or punishment.

The systematic criminalisation of asylum seekers and bleak destruction of hundreds of thousands of non-EU lives must stop now. We call for:

  • The acquittal of Amir Zahiri and Akif Razuli and for all charges against them to be dropped;
  • Freedom for those imprisoned for the “facilitation of illegal entry” and “boat driving” without evidence of doing so for financial gain, and despite the fact that there is no alternative for these individuals to legally reach the European Union;
  • A reform of the EU’s Facilitators’ Package to align it with the UN Smuggling Protocol as well as international human rights and refugee law;
  •  Greece, whose transposition of the EU legal framework on smuggling is one of the harshest on its criminalisation policy out of all EU Member States, must take immediate action to improve its framework in line with international human rights law;
  • An end to the criminalization of migration and the incarceration of people on the move.

Signatures

MEP Stelios Kouloglou

MEP Clare Daly

MEP Mick Wallace

MEP Pernando Barrena

MEP Sira Rego 

MEP Marisa Matias

MEP Dietmar Köster

MEP Bettina Vollath

MEP José Gusmão 

MEP Diana Riba i Giner

MEP Carles Puigdemont 

MEP Manu Pineda

MEP Damien Carême 

MEP Tatjana Zdanoka 

MEP Grace O’Sullivan

 MEP Ciarán Cuffe

 

Background information: The EU has played a huge role in the criminalisation of asylum seekers and the illegalisation of migration through the increasing militarisation and externalisation of its border regime. NGO Border Monitoring points out that “Migrants seeking protection have to pass a militarised border zone monitored by the Turkish and Greek Coast Guards, FRONTEX and NATO. In many cases, they are intercepted and brought back to Turkish prisons, from which they are either deported or eventually released so that they are able to try the crossing again”§.

At the centre of this is the EU’s legislation on human smuggling under the ‘Facilitators' Package’ issued in 2002. It consists of the EU Facilitation Directive and the Council Framework Decision that define facilitation of unauthorised irregular entry, transit and residence in the EU to be transposed into national law. It has been widely criticised by NGOs and a European Parliament Study for creating legal ambiguity and discrepancies in its transposition into domestic law¶  which have contributed to the violation of human rights of those seeking asylum. The EU Facilitators' Package does not provide any protection for migrants who rely on the smuggling system. This in contrast to the UN Protocol Against the Smuggling of Migrants by Land, Sea and Air that protects the rights of migrants who are smuggled.

Asylum seekers today, are refused legalised routes to seek protection in Europe, abused and criminalised by EU and national border authorities, and channelled to camps and prisons. They are forced to take treacherous risks, with slim chances of having their basic fundamental rights respected as established under EU and international laws.

Footnotes---------------------------------------------------------------------

* Some other high-profile cases include Hanad Abdi Mohammad, an asylum seeker sentenced for 142 years in prison, and  two young Afghani nationals coined the "Samos Two" who are facing large sentences for similar “crimes”. NGO workers working in Lesvos are facing similar charges; see Seán Binder and Sarah Mardini’s case.  The vast majority of migrants and asylum seekers that are trapped under false accusations in Greek and European prisons rest unknown.

According to the Greek Ministry of Justice, in 2019 1,905 people were imprisoned in Greece on the charges of facilitating illegal entry, making them the second largest group of prisoners that year.  The average trial lasted around 30 minutes, leading to an average sentence of 44 years.

Border Monitoring. 2020. ‘Incarcerating the Marginalized: The Fight Against Alleged “Smugglers” on the Greek Hotspot Islands’.

§ Border Monitoring 2020.

Amnesty International. 2020. ‘Europe: Punishing compassion: Solidarity on trial in Fortress Europe’.

 

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