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.