An Egyptian fisherman who was facing a 4,760-year sentence in a Greek prison has been sentenced to centuries in prison.
H. Elfallah was found guilty this week of “smuggling” nearly 500 people from Libya to Greece in November 2022 – including 336 men, 10 women, 128 boys and nine girls – and ended up with a “lesser” sentence of 280 years Instead.
Activist groups have condemned the court’s decision, saying the fisherman – who was one of the migrants aboard the vessel but was also at the helm of the ship – is being used as a scapegoat by Greek authorities.
The 45-year-old Egyptian fisherman was found aboard the vessel when it arrived in the Crete port of Paleochora in late November 2022.
The boat, which had lost control due to strong winds near the coast, sent a distress signal to the Greek coastguard, who brought the ship ashore and rescued those on board.
The dilapidated vessel had set sail from Libya with the aim of reaching the Italian coast, and the smuggled migrants on board came mainly from Syria, Egypt, Pakistan, Sudan and Palestine.
When Greek authorities boarded the boat, they immediately arrested seven migrants who had tried to sail the vessel to safety, including Elfallah and her 15-year-old son, according to human rights NGO borderline-europe.
The charity says Elfallah was not responsible for smuggling the nearly 500 migrants aboard the vessel and says he did not want to take the helm but was forced to by the dire circumstances of the voyage.
“Elfallah could not afford the cost of several thousand euros for the trip for himself and his son”, writes the NGO. “In exchange for a lower price, he and his son agreed to do some chores, which is very common on the air route to Europe.”
The Egyptian and his son reportedly wanted to be reunited with another son who is already living in the UK.
“People are dying in silence”: the migrant hotspot in Europe you probably don’t know
Ministers from five Mediterranean countries push for more EU solidarity on migration
UK government to introduce legislation to deport Channel migrants
As European borders have become increasingly militarized in recent years and the criminalization of illegal immigration has only been exacerbated, smugglers now routinely leave migrants to travel alone to the other side of the Mediterranean or Aegean, often assigning task of guiding the boats to their “customers”.
“It goes without saying that a boat has to be piloted by someone, especially a boat of this size,” writes borderline-europe in a report released last week.
“A boat of this size actually needs more people to do the navigation, the rudder and the mechanics. It is common that, if there are people in the group who have at least some seafaring experience, they take on the duties of helm – which just makes sense and should be in the best interests of all who claim to have the welfare of the people on board at heart.”
According to the organisation, Elfallah has been “in the crosshairs” of European authorities who seek to hold someone accountable for boats of migrants still reaching the continent’s shores despite widespread efforts to stop these journeys at their starting point.
Those who contribute to making migrants’ journeys safer aboard the ships that carry them “are arrested and treated as criminals, are punished to discourage others, used as scapegoats to divert attention from the responsibility that Europe has with its policy of closed borders that forces people to get on these boats and make these trips”, writes the NGO.
Elfallah was charged with “unlawful entry” and “unlawful transport of 476 third-country nationals into Greek territory”, with the aggravating circumstance of “endangering the lives of passengers”, “acting for profit” and “belonging to a criminal organization”. .
Under Article 30 of the Greek migration law, the fisherman could have been sentenced to 10 years for each person transported, for a total of 4760 years.
But on Monday the court decided “only” 280 years, taking into account “his reasons”.