A group of 24 aid workers on trial for their involvement with refugees on Lesvos had their case adjourned on Thursday.
The trial began on Thursday and was immediately met with a flurry of organizations around the world calling for Greek authorities to drop the charges against the aid workers. The workers on trial were members of the Emergency Response Center International (ERCI), a nonprofit group that was active on the Island of Lesvos between 2016 and 2018.
The group’s primary focus was to help refugees safely reach the camps on the island of Lesvos, which was one of the centers of the migrant crisis in Europe.
The workers are currently being charged with espionage, a conclusion authorities say stems from the group’s decision to monitor the Greek Coast Guard and Frontex radio channels.
Groups like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have denounced the charges and come out in solidarity with the defendants, saying that the trial is “politically motivated:”
“It’s a trial we never wanted to see happening because these people are facing trumped up charges, absurd charges,” Giorgos Kosmopoulos, who works with Amnesty International, said.
“Today’s decision to adjourn the case to be tried at a higher court only compounds the grave human rights violations in this case,” he stressed.
The group’s members could see as much as eight years in prison if found guilty.
“I feel angry,” said Sean Binder, one of the workers on trial who worked with the group as a rescue diver, told Reuters. “I feel angry that the legal requirement to try and help people in distress out at sea is being criminalized right now. I am angry because there is not a shred of evidence against us.”
Multiple fires at the Lesvos migrant camp
The island of Lesvos’ multiple migrant camps were plagued with issues throughout their history. Thousands of migrants fled the overcrowded camp at Moria in September of 2020, after multiple fires, set by arsonists within the camp, gutted much of the site.
The severely overcrowded camp, home to more than 12,000 migrants and refugees, was under COVID-19 lockdown at the time after a cluster of cases had been detected there.
“The fire spread inside and outside of the camp and has destroyed it … There are more than 12,000 migrants being guarded by police on a highway,” Stratos Kytelis, mayor of the island’s main town, Mytilene, told Skai Radio.
“It is a very difficult situation because some of those who are outside will include people who are positive (for the coronavirus).”
Thousands of migrants and asylum seekers, among them families with children, pregnant women and people with disabilities, had to sleep in the open for a week after the camp was destroyed in the arson attack.
“The worst refugee camp on earth”
Built in 2013 to house a maximum of 3,000 individuals, the Moria migrant camp became badly overcrowded in 2015 as a huge wave of people began arriving on the Greek islands on small boats from nearby Turkey.
Home to migrants and asylum seekers from the Middle East, Africa and South Asia seeking a better life in the European Union, it quickly became a byword for squalor and violence. It was described by Human Rights Watch as an open air prison.
In August 2018, it was dubbed by the field coordinator of Doctors Without Borders as “the worst refugee camp on earth.”
Some 10,000 migrants and asylum seekers are currently living across Greece’s Aegean islands, the vast majority of them hoping to settle elsewhere in the EU.