Asylum seeker father faces 10 years in Greek jail for son’s death | Migration

Athens, Greece – A 26-year-old asylum seeker from Afghanistan is facing 10 years in prison in Greece for the death of his five-year-old son, who drowned after boarding a dinghy from Turkey to Turkey. Greece with his father on November 8, 2020.

Hafez, the pseudonym of a defendant who spoke to Al Jazeera on condition of anonymity, will appear in court on Wednesday, charged with endangering the life of his child.

Hafez whispered as he remembered the fateful trip that led to his son’s death.

He described holding his son tightly when the boat with 24 people on board hit rocks off the Greek island of Samos in the eastern Aegean and capsized.

The boy disappeared into the water and was later found by Greek authorities, washed up on the shores of Cape Prasso, a steep and treacherous rocky part of the island, sometimes referred to as the “Nose of Death”.

Hafez finds it difficult to go into details of that night but says he went to Europe, as hundreds of thousands of others have done, in search of a better life for his children.

A cuddly toy is placed on the grave of a five-year-old boy from Afghanistan
A cuddly toy on the grave of a five-year-old boy from Afghanistan on the island of Samos [File: Thanassis Stavrakis/AP]

His asylum application was denied twice in Turkey and he faces deportation to Afghanistan.

“I came here for my son’s future,” he said, recalling the many times his son asked him when he could go to school.

Hafez couldn’t understand why he was facing a prison sentence for the tragic event that saw his son die.

“Not just me. There are many people who have lost their families, their sons, their wives. [en route to Greece], “I said. “What can they prove? That accident happened to us? “

Alan Kurdi

Hafez’s son was one of many children who died in the Aegean seeking safety in Europe.

One of the most famous cases is that of a two-year-old Syrian boy, Alan Kurdiwho drowned after his boat capsized en route from Turkey to Greece, and whose body washed up on a Turkish beach in 2015.

Kurdi will become a symbol of the refugee crisis as more than a million people seek asylum in Europe.

Hafez’s lawyer, Dimitris Choulis, said that to the best of his knowledge, Hafez’s case is the first case where an asylum seeker has been charged in Greece for the death of his child in a shipwreck.

Choulis told Al Jazeera that he believes the charges against his client have no merit.

“I believe he will be presumed innocent,” he said firmly.

An Afghan father watches television in his room, at Vathy port on Samos island, eastern Aegean, Greece
Still devastated by the loss of her only child, Hafez has found herself charged with child endangerment. [File: Thanassis Stavrakis/AP]

The timeline of events that night in the Aegean is also in question. Choulis said it took authorities more than six hours to conduct a rescue operation that night.

Aegean Boat Report, a Norwegian NGO that monitors asylum seekers arriving in Greece and is often contacted by those in distress, confirmed to Al Jazeera that they called Samos port police at 12: 06 am on 8 November (21:06 GMT on 11 November). 7), 2020 to notify them of arrivals and disappearances.

According to Choulis, asylum seekers who had boarded the rock from the shipwreck testified that they saw an area patrol boat shine its lights on them but then left.

The Greek coast guard told media it initially answered a distress call but could not find anyone.

At 6 a.m. (03:00 GMT), Hafez, who was aggressively searching for his son, confronted police officers and told them what had happened.

By the time his son was found that morning, it was too late to save him. The boy’s body was recovered nearby of a pregnant woman, who was unconscious but alive and gave birth a few days later at a hospital on the island.

The ordeal didn’t end there, Choulis recalls Hafez later being handcuffed to dismember his son’s body.

The lawyer recalled waiting outside for the bereaved after he saw his son’s body. Choulis said that Hafez couldn’t handle it.

“When they come [out] his handcuffs were removed, [the police officers] Choulis said.

“I don’t think he was ever fine after that.”

Other defendants

Choulis also represents another asylum seeker, Hasan (another pseudonym), who will appear in court on the same day as Hafez, for being the pilot of the boat Hafez and his son are in.

Hasan, also from Afghanistan, is facing life in prison for the 5-year-old boy’s death, a maximum of 230 years in prison for endangering the lives of 23 people excluding himself.

Hasan is one of a growing number of asylum seekers who have faced smuggling charges in Greece for being at the helm of the boat, in what human rights groups and academics say is a pattern Migration is increasing.

Hasan said he was forced to steer the boat by smugglers and had no choice but to comply.

Dr Gemma Bird, senior lecturer in politics and international relations at the University of Liverpool, said: “This trial is part of a broader pattern of criminalizing those seeking safety. from war and persecution, as well as the individuals and organizations that seek to support them,” Dr Gemma Bird, senior lecturer in politics and international relations at the University of Liverpool UK, told Al. Jazeera.

“In recent years we have seen similar things happen in Greece and Italy as well as violent reactions by state authorities at the land and sea borders,” she said. across Europe, things that have been shown time and time again to put people at risk.”

On 5 May 2022, three asylum seekers from Syria, who were on board a boat that capsized off the Greek island of Paros in December 2021, were convicted for “facilitating entry illegally” entered Greece and were sentenced together to 439 years in prison.

‘Hard but fair’

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has consistently defended his country’s approach to migration, dismissing reports of asylum seekers at the border being illegally hindered and stressing that Authorities must comply with the law.

Mitsotakis said the country has a “tough but fair” immigration policy where human rights are fully respected.

Greek Immigration Minister Notis Mitarachi, speaking of Hafez’s case to the media, said it was important that the circumstances of any deaths were thoroughly investigated.

“If there is loss of life, then it should be investigated whether some people, negligently or intentionally, acted outside the bounds of the law,” he said.

“Those who choose to board unworthy boats, and are piloted by those with no sea experience, are clearly putting human lives at risk.”

Hafez still doesn’t know how to pick up the pieces of his life from that night.

“What’s been on my mind for a long time, I want to erase it, but I can’t,” he said.

Hafez will appear in court this week in Samos, the island where his son is buried in a cemetery along with many others who have perished seeking asylum in Greece.

“I thought maybe it would be safe for my son here, maybe I would build my son’s future here,” Hafez said slowly. “I haven’t been myself since then.”

A spokesman for the Greek Foreign Ministry told Al Jazeera they could not comment on the trial.

The case is under judicial investigation and the court’s decision cannot be commented on by the Greek authorities, as the judiciary is independent, the ministry said.

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