Outrage

Human rights activists decry arrest of Syrian refugee ‘hero swimmer’ as an attack on sea rescuers

A Syrian refugee who together with her sister, an Olympic swimmer, helped save the lives of 18 other refugees during trying to cross from Turkey to Greece by jumping out of their sinking boat and helping push it to shore, has been arrested by Greek police on charges of smuggling, espionage, and membership in a criminal organization. Sara Mardini, 23, who had volunteered with refugee rescue group European Response Centre International for several years following her remarkable escape from war-torn Syria, was arrested along with four other ERCI employees — including Panos Moraitis, the organization’s founder. Police have claimed that Mardini and the four others arrested had been working with criminal networks to illegally move migrants into the country.

Human rights activists have decried Sardini’s arrest as a publicity stunt meant to appease nationalists who complain that the government isn’t doing enough to curb illegal immigration. As evidence, it has been pointed out that on many of the dates Greek authorities claim Mardini was illegally moving migrants, she was actually not even in Greece but in Germany, where she attends Bard College Berlin, according to the college’s managing director and legal representative Florian Becker. The school is currently working to ensure that Mardini’s case is brought to trial as swiftly as possible, Becker said, since Greek law allows people to be detained for up to 18 months. Mardini has been detained since August 21, and several weeks had passed before authorities officially announced her arrest.

The island of Lesbos, where Mardini has volunteered with various NGOs over the past three summers, is home to the largest refugee camp in Greece — the Moria camp, which was designed to hold 3,000 occupants but now holds 8,300 refugees, according to the UNHCR. Lesbos also happens to be the place that the boat carrying 18 refugees, with Sara Mardini and her sister, Yusra, swimming alongside, made landfall.

“To see someone undergo such trauma, to show such courage in the face of death, and to still go back to the place of trauma to help others, is nothing short of inspiring,” said Moraitis. “I feel that targeting Sara helps put the case more in the spotlight, showing that the authorities will go after anyone if they get involved with sea rescue.”

Read the full story at PRI.

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