Syrian refugee Sarah Mardini whose story inspired Netflix drama The Swimmers is on trial in ‘grotesque’ human trafficking case | world news

A Syrian refugee and competitive swimmer whose story inspired a Netflix film has been tried in a smuggling case after he took part in migrant rescue operations on a Greek island.

Sarah Mardini, a prominent human rights activist, is one of 24 aid workers and volunteers on trial in the case which has been widely criticized by human rights groups.

Mardini fled Syria with his sister, Yousra Mardiniwho competed on the refugee swim team at the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro in 2016 and Tokyo in 2021.

The sisters were once among Syria’s most promising swimmers but found themselves swimming for their lives after jumping from an inflatable boat that started taking on water as it was transporting refugees to Greece .

Their harrowing escape from their war-torn homeland inspired the 2022 Netflix drama The Swimmers.

The trial of Mardini and his co-defendants on smuggling-related offenses began Tuesday in a court on the Greek island of Lesvos.

They all deny the charges and say they tried to help people whose lives were in grave danger.

Mardini and Irish volunteer, Sean Binder, spent more than three months in prison on Lesbos after being arrested in 2018 on alleged misdemeanor charges including espionage, forgery and illegal use of radio frequencies.

The case was postponed to 2021 due to procedural issues.

Mardini was not present at Tuesday’s hearing, which was adjourned to Friday.

She and Binder are also being investigated for crimes, but no charges have yet been filed.

Sarah Mardini, right, and her sister Yusra pose during a training session in Germany in 2015. Photo: AP

Speaking in court, Binder said, “What’s on trial today is human rights. That’s the root issue.”

He said the band were “desperate” to be tried because what they did was “legal”.

“We need the judge to recognize that we have to get through this because until then there is a shadow of doubt, not about me alone, but about anyone doing search and rescue.”

The case against the volunteers has been described as “outlandish” by human rights organization Amnesty International, which has urged the Greek authorities to drop the charges.

But Greek officials say their migration policy is strict but fair.

Read more:
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Record numbers of people crossing the Channel to the UK in small boats in 2022

Sean Binder, one of 24 defendants, holds a sign during an Amnesty International protest in Athens, Greece, in 2021.
Sean Binder, one of 24 defendants, holds a sign during an Amnesty International protest in Athens, Greece in 2021

Amnesty’s European regional office director, Nils Muiznieks, said in a statement: “Sarah and Sean did what each of us should do if we were in their place.

“Helping people at risk of drowning on one of Europe’s deadliest sea routes and assisting them on the coast is not a crime.

“This lawsuit reveals how the Greek authorities will do everything possible to deter humanitarian aid and discourage migrants and refugees from seeking safety on the country’s shores, which we see in a number of European countries,” he said. he declared.

“It’s a farce that this trial is even taking place.”

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From October 2022: Migrants drown as dinghy sinks off Lesvos

The authorities deny having carried out illegal summary expulsions of people arriving on Greek soil without allowing them to apply for asylum, in the framework of a procedure known as “refoulement”.

Greece saw an estimated one million people cross its shores from Turkey at the height of the refugee crisis in 2015.

A photo of toddler Alan Kurdiwho died when an inflatable boat carrying his family from Syria capsized sparked a global outcry over the refugee crisis.

But a year after the tragedy, the father of the three-year-old said little had changed.

Greece has since cracked down on the migration, erecting a fence along most of its land border with Turkey and stepping up maritime patrols around its islands.


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