Greek court overturns life sentence for Somali migrant for people smuggling

An appeals court in Greece has overturned the life sentence of Somali migrant Mohamed Hanad Abdi, who was found guilty of people smuggling, and ordered his release on Monday. 

In 2021, Abdi was found guilty of his involvement in a dangerous boat trip from Turkey to the Greek island of Lesvos, which resulted in the deaths of two individuals and the rescue of 33 others.

At Monday’s appeal, Abdi’s sentence was shortened to 8 years, and he was released, taking into account time served and good behavior during his detention. The appeals hearing was attended by members of the European Parliament who had argued that Abdi’s conviction was unjust.

This case has brought international attention to Greece’s strict border protection laws, introduced in recent years as part of efforts to combat illegal migration within the European Union. 

Sentencing guidelines for illegal migration have been criticized for being too harsh and treating ordinary migrants like criminals. 

Stelios Kouloglou, an EU lawmaker, who led the campaign for Abdi’s release and attended the trial, said that “many ordinary migrants are being treated like criminals” and believes that many more migrants currently in Greek prisons have been wrongfully convicted.

Abdi’s case also highlights the issue of asylum-seekers receiving lengthy prison terms for trafficking or facilitating illegal entry, despite claiming they were acting in self-preservation. 

Human rights groups have identified several similar cases in recent months where this has occurred. Last month, t two Afghan men, Akif Razouli and Amir Zahiri, who were serving 50-year prison sentences, were granted release on appeal. Razouli was cleared, while Zahiri’s sentence was reduced to eight years.

The campaign to support jailed migrants has received support from human rights groups, leading Greek performing artists, and 15 European Parliament members who have written letters of complaint to Greek authorities.

The Greek government has defended its migration policy as “strict but fair,” arguing that harsh sentencing for smugglers is a vital part of the country’s border defense policy. 

However, 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 rather than as a form of justice.

Greece has recently been at the forefront of Europe’s migration crisis. With the country’s location on the Eastern border of the EU and being in the proximity of major migratory routes, it has been a gateway for migrants and refugees seeking to enter the EU. 

This has put pressure on Greece’s government to toughen its border policies to stem the flow of illegal migration. The approach has led to increased numbers of people being imprisoned for smuggling, which has been decried by human rights groups.

In light of Abdi’s release and the recent releases of Razouli and Zahiri, Kouloglou stated, “our next step for us is to campaign for the law to change.” 

Abdi’s case serves as a reminder of the human cost of stricter migration policies and the need for a fair and humane approach to handling migration. 

There is a growing recognition that the EU needs to find a comprehensive and sustainable solution for migration that addresses security concerns and respects the rights and dignity of migrants.