Home Featured I was imprisoned for trying to help migrants — here’s what I learned
I was imprisoned for trying to help migrants — here’s what I learned

I was imprisoned for trying to help migrants — here’s what I learned

by host

Séan Binder is a human rights campaigner and the founder of Free Humanitarians. He is facing criminal charges for his work in migrant search and rescue, alongside Sara Mardini. As of January 13, 2023, while misdemeanor charges like espionage have been dropped, he still faces 12 years imprisonment if found guilty. 

The European Union often lectures the rest of the world on the “European values” of human rights and justice. But these amount to nothing if we aren’t willing to practice them.

In 2018, I spent over 100 days in pretrial detention on a Greek island, and still face 12 years imprisonment if found guilty of heinous crimes including money laundering and facilitating the illegal entry of asylum seekers.

For over four years, I have been waiting for the prosecution to finally bring these charges to trial. 

At some damage to my ego, however, I must dispel any exciting notion of me as a criminal mastermind or international spy. My alleged “crime” was nothing more than helping people at risk of drowning in the Aegean Sea. Starting in 2017, I spent almost a year coordinating civilian rescue efforts on the Greek island of Lesvos, off the coast of Turkey, working with the Greek authorities to provide emergency medical assistance at sea and on the shoreline.

And for this, I was handcuffed to murderers and locked in a small cell.

Of my trial, Human Rights Watch has said that the prosecution seeks “to criminalize saving lives.” Concerningly, this is just one of many instances of people being criminalized for helping those in need.

Imagine you arrive at the scene of a car accident. You see someone lying on the roadside; they clearly need your help. What would you check first, their pulse or their passport? If, like me, you first check their pulse, you have committed the same crime I supposedly have.

Politicians often talk of the “pull factor,” asserting that even if search and rescuers aren’t directly involved in smuggling, they indirectly encourage it by rescuing asylum seekers. Asylum seekers fleeing conflict and persecution decide to risk their lives by crossing the Mediterranean because NGOs provide them with support, such as search and rescue — or so their argument goes.

I first read about this pull factor in a FRONTEX risk analysis report while in my cell. The report alleged that rescuers actually cause deaths through the pull factor. I was stunned. How naïve had I been? During my search and rescue work, I thought I was helping people, but apparently I was risking lives by colluding with the extremely dangerous smuggling industry.

It’s a pretty intuitive argument — but dig a little bit deeper, and one discovers that there is absolutely no correlation between the presence of search and rescue and the operation of smugglers. There is, however, a correlation between smuggling and the weather on the departing shoreline. And there is a correlation between smuggling and ongoing conflict.

Unfortunately, this reality doesn’t stop the EU from using the threat of people smugglers to renege on their legal and moral responsibility of providing protection to those fleeing conflict and persecution. To this end, they seek to prevent asylum seekers from reaching Europe.

“Ironically, it’s not me, the supposed criminal, who has a tenuous grasp of the law — rather, it is the EU” | Manolis Lagoutaris/AFP via Getty images

But rather counterproductively, it’s the EU’s anti-smuggling policies that incentivize smuggling. This is because one must be physically present in the territory of the would-be host country in order to claim asylum. But “safe and legal routes” into the EU are a myth. We have restricted them, for instance, by deploying dogs to viciously attack those trying to cross EU borders, propelling asylum seekers into the hands of smugglers with our own border policies.

Ironically, it’s not me, the supposed criminal, who has a tenuous grasp of the law — rather, it is the EU.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights enshrines the right to seek asylum; the European Convention on Human Rights prohibits collective expulsions;  the Geneva Convention ensures that no person should be criminalized for crossing a border irregularly with the aim of seeking asylum; and international maritime conventions require the search and rescue of those at risk at sea.

Of course, migration and borders are polarizing issues, and nowhere is this more evident than on social media. Since this process began, I’ve received daily messages telling me that I’m a criminal and that the people I “smuggled” should be dead. Yet, for each such message, others have told me that I’m a hero.

Both are wrong — and they are wrong for the same reason: Framing the act of helping someone as either criminal or heroic implies that it’s somehow abnormal. But it isn’t. Helping someone in distress is the most normal thing to do.

Throughout this whole ordeal, I’ve learned how ineffective our border policies are, and how swiftly we’re willing to ignore the rule of law.

Nobody should be abandoned to drown.

Source link

You may also like