Three Spanish firefighters and two Danes, all members of non-governmental organizations, stand trial on the island of Lesvos on Monday. Greek authorities accuse them of smuggling refugees into the island of Eastern Aegean Sea and into the European Union in January 2016.
The accused say they were only trying to help refugees in danger of drowning, but authorities say no life was at risk. They face sentences up to 10 years in prison.
The authorities say the firefighters “attempted to smuggle people into Greece” because “the night (they refer to) they didn’t have anyone on board,” Manuel Blanco, one of the firefighters and vice-president of the Spanish NGOs Proemaid, told Euronews.
“If a person is drowning and you bring them ashore to try and save them, that can be seen as facilitating their entry,” said Blanco. This, in his opinion, blurs the fine line between human trafficking and humanitarian aid.
Blanco and his colleagues, Julio Latorre, and Enrique Rodriguez, from Seville, Spain, have helped out in multiple refugee rescue missions. Now they are very worried about the situation.
“We are not smugglers. We are rescuers doing humanitarian work to help the local authorities who don’t have the capacity to help the huge number of Syrian refugees escaping the war.”
Lesbos became the face of the worst refugee crisis to hit Europe since World War II. Between January 2015 and February 2016, 937.000 people crossed into Greece from Turkey. About half of them arrived to the island of Lesbos according to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM).