Syrian Swimmer Sara Mardini Arrested in Greece for Aiding Refugees

Sara Mardini, who gained international fame for helping pull a boat full of Syrian refugees to shore alongside sister and 2016 Olympian Yusra Mardini, was arrested by Greek authorities on Tuesday, August 28th, for aiding refugees on the Greek island of Lesbos.

Mardini was arrested alongside Greek national Nassos Karakitsos and Irish volunteer Seán Binder, all three of whom are volunteers of Emergency Response Centre International (ERCI), a Greek non-profit non-governmental organization (NGO). Mardini is currently being held in a prison outside of Athens.

Irish national Seán Binder faces up to 20 years in Greek prison on charges of human trafficking, espionage, money laundering, and being a member of a criminal organization. Mardini is being charged with the same crimes, though it is not clear whether Greek authorities will seek the same sentence. Binder, who is a search and rescue first responder with ERCI, states in his LinkedIn profile that he assists in search and rescue operations on Lesbos and that he provides aide to asylum-seekers arriving to the EU.

In all, a total of 30 Greek and foreign nationals were arrested by Greek authorities on August 21st for allegedly belonging to a criminal organization directly responsible for aiding migrant smugglers for financial gain. Greek authorities further accuse Mardini and the ECRI of breaching immigration laws, money laundering, espionage, and forgery.

A Greek lawyer representing German-based Mardini, who currently studies on scholarship at Bard College in Berlin, maintains that the Syrian expat was only doing volunteer work on Lesbos for the ERCI. Contrarily, Greek authorities allege that members of the ERCI have been in contact with migrants on social media in an effort to “actively assist” their illegal entry into Greece since 2015.

A Greek police statement described the ERCI and its members actions as: “The activities of an organised criminal network that systematically facilitated the illegal entry of foreigners were fully exposed.”

It has also been alleged that Mardini and other members of the ERCI monitored Greek Coastguard and EU border agency Frontex radio traffic in an effort to keep track of migrants’ movements. Sven Spannekrebs, the German swim coach to both Mardini sisters, doubts the claim that Mardini and co. illegally listened in on radio conversations, stating that “[the] channels that the (ERCI) radios had access to are open to anyone to listen,” despite that Frontex–the European Border and Coast Guard Agency–and the Greek Coastguard use encrypted channels.

Florian Becker, a managing director of Bard College in Berlin, said: “We are in close contact with Sara’s legal counsel and these clearly unsubstantiated charges seem more about halting the operations of the NGO in question than about any actions of Sara or her fellow volunteer,” reports The Telegraph.

Since 2015 Lesbos has become a hub for migrants fleeing the Middle East and Syria in particular. At present, Lesbos has upwards of 10,000 refugees awaiting asylum in Greece and other European countries.

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We’ll see what facts emerge, but on the surface, these charges are an obscenity – conflating a humanitarian organization with an organized crime syndicate. Unfortunately it seems that in many countries, “anything goes” when it comes to dissuading or blocking refugees.


Agreed. Assisting an organization whose goal is strictly humanitarian becomes criminal? This is how fascism starts.

Joel Lin

Well put. Amen.


Its a complex problem. Mainly countries should worked on making things better at home for these people. About 10 percent get into the west and the other 90 percent remain at home.

Steve Nolan

This is literally the biggest crisis affecting the world as a whole right now – there are going to be millions of climate refugees very soon! Given the current responses from the nations most well positioned to help out (read: the wealthy nations that caused most of the damage in the first place), I’m pretty scared for where we’re going.

Im going to catch tomorrow now

Famine in Yemen is probably worse. Not to trivialize this, which is super terrible, just saying this is the one that the US is following.


both are on the top list of Major crisis

Steve Nolan

The US is also directly enabling that, too! But good point, if there’s an easily-solved humanitarian disaster going on right now, it’s there. (It would just take standing up to the Saudis, which…we won’t do.)


Climate refuges.? Wow!


Shame on Greece


You are probably know nothing about this case besides this article in Swimswam, but are so fast already to shame the entire nation.


I don’t think smuggling in migrants is wrong, I think not allowing migrants in is.


1. a person who moves from one place to another, especially in order to find work or better living conditions.
2. an animal that migrates.
tending to migrate or having migrated.
“migrant birds”


Thanks for providing the definition for potentially confused people


Let em stay at your house

Steve Nolan

They should stay at all our houses. We should help them out, collectively.

You gave my “climate refugees” comment an assumed sarcastic “wow!” but they’re absolutely coming. Hell, the US already has our own in Alaska and Louisiana:

Miami ain’t too far away from being underwater and southwestern desert cities will run out of water sooner than you think. This is all coming sooner than you think, and to lock your doors on those unlucky enough to live in these affected areas is one of the most inhumane things you could do.


I think that human race will survive. Can you imagine the territory of United States being covered by 2 miles high ice shield just 10 thousand years ago? It is so close. Pyramids of Giza are 5 thousand years old.
Moral norms is completely different issue and there will be never a consensus.

Steve Nolan

Honestly, I don’t know if we’ll make it: “Several of the scientists I spoke with proposed global warming as the solution to Fermi’s famous paradox, which asks, If the universe is so big, then why haven’t we encountered any other intelligent life in it? The answer, they suggested, is that the natural life span of a civilization may be only several thousand years, and the life span of an industrial civilization perhaps only several hundred. In a universe that is many billions of years old, with star systems separated as much by time as by space, civilizations might emerge and develop and burn themselves up simply too fast to ever find one another.” I’m honestly so pessimistic when it… Read more »


@ STEVE NOLAN: I don’t know what to say. I really don’t. But even if I have something I won’t bring it here in Swimswam.
The notion of “the end of the world” is one of the ancient and the strongest belief in the history of humankind. I don’t know why.

Steve Nolan

Well yeah, ask the Mayans how that worked out. (THEY ALL GONE.)

And I mean, we ain’t never cooked the planet like this before? Like, if aliens showed up with a Death Star, but instead of immediately blowing up the planet would just slowly heat it up? I’ve got faith we’d take ’em out after a rousing Bill Pullman speech. But because were doing it for ourselves!? We’re so screwed.


Okay, can you pay their plane ticket to America? I’m doing something for you, only fair you do something for me.

About Reid Carlson

Reid Carlson

Reid Carlson originally hails from Clay Center, Kansas, where he began swimming at age six.  At age 14 he began swimming club year-round and later with his high school team, making state all four years.  He was fortunate enough to draw the attention of Kalamazoo College where he went on to …

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