EU lawmakers back Somali migrant fighting life sentence in Greece

Athens (Caasimada Online) – A Somali migrant is appealing a life sentence for people smuggling – a case that has garnered the support of a group of European Parliament members who claim he was wrongly convicted. 

In 2021, Mohammad Hanad Abdi was sentenced to 142 years in prison for his role in a smuggling operation from Turkey to the Greek island of Lesbos in which two people drowned, and 33 others were rescued. 

Abdi has maintained that he only took control of the vessel after a Turkish smuggler had abandoned it. According to his lawyers, many of the survivors of the fateful crossing from Turkey support his account of events: he was forced to take control of the dinghy after a Turkish smuggler abandoned it. 

Despite arguing that he was seeking safety, Mohammad received a maximum sentence of 142 years under Greece’s criminal code.

The case has brought attention to Greece’s stringent sentencing guidelines for illegal migration, which were introduced in recent years as part of efforts to combat the issue within the European Union. 

Stelios Kouloglou, a Greek MEP, is leading a campaign to reexamine such convictions, an effort that has received backing from other European lawmakers and Greek artists who have raised funds for legal fees. 

The campaign has also been supported by 15 MEPs who have written letters of complaint to Greek authorities. 

Human rights groups have identified several cases in recent months where asylum-seekers have received lengthy prison terms for trafficking or facilitating illegal entry, despite claiming that they were acting in self-preservation. 

Last month, two Afghan men given 50-year prison sentences, Akif Razouli and Amir Zahiri, were released on appeal; Razouli was acquitted, and Zahiri’s sentence was reduced to eight years. 

The practice of putting migrants on trial for smuggling has increased in Greece over the past few years, as the country has hardened its migration policy and the European Union has focused on deterrence.

Legal experts and rights groups argue that the heavy sentences being given to migrants are meant to deter others from attempting to enter the country illegally.

“The criminalization of migrants as a means of deterrence has been a strategy for a long time,” said François Crépeau, a former top United Nations official on the rights of migrants. 

“The latest step is what we’ve seen in Greece recently: obscene numbers of years in prison for people who are basically trying to save their lives and protect their families.”

Greece defends its courts as fair and claims that it has to protect its borders, which are also the borders of the European Union. 

It is difficult to determine how many of the hundreds of migrants serving time in Greek prisons for smuggling or facilitating illegal entry may have been wrongly sentenced. 

A report published in November by Border Monitoring, a German charity, identified at least 48 such cases on the islands of Chios and Lesbos alone, in which “the defendants did not profit in any way from the smuggling business.” 

According to Valeria Hänsel, one of the report’s authors, this number is likely to be only the tip of the iceberg, as most arrests take place on boats, making it hard to track. 

The Greek police claimed in a statement that every suspected case is thoroughly investigated under the supervision of a prosecutor and that all offenses are prosecuted per Greek law.