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Somali Sentenced to Life in Greece for Trafficking Wins Appeal

A migrant boat was stopped by the Greek Coast Guard recently near the island of Lesvos. Credit: Greek Coast Guard

A Somali migrant sentenced to 142 years in prison in Greece for human trafficking has had his sentence overturned after receiving legal support from EU lawmakers. Mohammed Hanad Abdi received the verdict after his capture off the coast of Lesvos in 2021.

This Monday however, 28-year-old Abdi appeared in court to appeal what he called a wrongful conviction. During the appeal today, the courts reduced 142 year sentence to eight. Abdi was released afterwards for time served and good behavior.

Life sentence for Somali

Abdi was taken into custody in 2021 for steering a migrant boat filled with other refugees from Turkey to Greece. Yet according to Abdi, he only took hold of the wheel for one reason. The human traffickers who had booked their passage had abandoned the boat. “I didn’t think saving people is a crime,” Abdi stated in his defense.

The court ruling came after the Somalian migrant’s arrest for driving a dingy filled with almost thirty-six other individuals towards the Greek coastline after the smuggler in charge jumped ship. He has argued that he called for aid repeatedly from the Turkish Coast Guard. However, when they arrived, they merely encircled the boat and forced it closer to Greece, he said. Two women aboard drowned after falling into the water during the altercation.

This is not the first time Greece and the EU have criticized Turkey for its treatment of migrants stranded mid-sea. On October 5, 2022, they were accused once more of violently pushing a ship toward Greece. Then, on October 17th, Greece again criticized Turkey for dropping ninety-two naked migrants on EU borders.

As for Abdi’s own experience, according to the Decan Herald, he told his lawyers, “I still have nightmares about it. If I hadn’t done it, we’d all be dead.”

The New York Times first reported the 142-year, 10-day sentence after receiving a copy of the ruling in May 2022. Nevertheless, it also mentioned that Abdi would only have to serve twenty years, the maximum term of imprisonment in Greece.

Draconian measures?

Some EU lawmakers have accused the Greek courts of draconian measures when it comes to sentencing illegal immigrants to prison. That is because Abdi is apparently not the only one to have received such a lengthy period of incarceration for similar incidents.

Allegedly, the Somalian refugee is but one of many illegal immigrants who have faced prison terms of fifty years at a minimum for undertaking the harrowing journey from Turkey to Greece in search of refuge.

AP News noted that two Afghans by the names of Akif Razouli and Amir Zahiri also faced extended detention, as sentenced by the Greek courts, for saving their ships after human traffickers left them to their own devices mid-sea. The court cleared Razouli of all charges, however, while Zahiri will now serve only eight years.

François Crépeau, a former official for the United Nations on migrant rights, describes the unusually long sentencing following the convictions as examples of the “criminalization of migrants as a means of deterrence.” This is a tactic, he states, that has “been in use for a long time” in Greece.

“The latest step is what we’ve seen in Greece recently, which is obscene numbers of years in prison for people who are basically trying to save their lives and protect their families,” he is reported by the Deccan Herald to have said.

EU lawmakers offer aid

Stelios Kouloglou, the Greek member of the EU Parliament currently leading the campaign in Abdi’s defense, declared online prior to the trial that “international solidarity is vital for these refugees, who are victims of this unjust era…by the Greek government [which] condemn[s] innocent people with excessive sentences.”

Fifteen other EU Parliamentarian members who support Kouloglou sent letters of complaint to the Greek government attesting to that fact for Abdi and others facing long terms in prison. EU lawmakers also spoke out against the practice alongside many Greek artists, providing financial support for legal fees.

Yet the Greek Migration Minister Notis Mitarachi has defended Greece’s immigration policy. “In Greece as in the US and the whole Western world, justice is strong and independent, judging on the basis of facts presented during hearings.” This is due not only to the steadily increasing number of migrants seeking to enter Greece but also the number of human traffickers illegally working in and out of the country.

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