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  • Writer's pictureHRLP Board

The Human Toll of Europe’s ‘War on Smuggling’

Updated: Sep 22, 2023

By Julie Bourdin, Leon Spring, Lorenzo D'Agostino and Stavros Malichudis, New Lines Magazine.

"How new laws leave smugglers free while jailing thousands of migrants and asylum seekers on dubious charges.

Osama Al Sahili first learned about the shipwreck from a video sent on WhatsApp. On Christmas Day, 2021, he was sitting in his living room in Finland when he received a message on his cellphone. The video, filmed the previous night, showed a small yacht, packed with 77 people, sinking off the Greek island of Paros in the Aegean Sea. His brother Kheiraldin, with a black beard and sunken, tired eyes, was among the passengers.

Several agonizing minutes later, a new video appeared: Passengers were disembarking from a fishing boat that had rescued some of the survivors. Kheiraldin was amongst them, shivering in a khaki T-shirt. “That’s how I knew he was alive,” Osama tells New Lines.

Osama and Kheiraldin Al Sahili had fled their home in Baniyas, Syria, in the early days of the country’s conflict. From Turkey, Osama made his way north through the Balkans, eventually reaching Finland, where he was granted asylum. But Kheiraldin remained stuck in Turkey. “Three times, after crossing the Evros River into Greece, the Greek border guards sent him back to Turkey,” recalls Osama.

Kheiraldin’s 3-year-old daughter had a deteriorating heart condition that required medical treatment in Europe. Frustrated by his failed attempts to cross the border on foot, he ultimately made contact with a smuggler in the hope of arranging a journey by boat, circumventing Greece to arrive in Italy — a trip of over 600 miles (1,000 kilometers). “He decided to risk his life to save his daughter. But the unfortunate happened,” says Osama.

After the video of the shipwreck, Osama had no further news of his brother until, days later, he began receiving phone calls from a Greek prison. On the other end of the line, Kheiraldin explained that he had accepted an offer to steer the boat himself, since he didn’t have enough money to pay for the trip. Now the Greek police were accusing him of being the smuggler who had organized the crossing, which had resulted in 18 passengers drowning. He was facing a life sentence in prison for each of the 18 victims".

Based on this investigation, Julie Bourdin also published an article in the French daily Libération: 'Chasse aux passeurs : ces migrants condamnés à tort'.

HRLP's lawyers represented Abdallah, Kheiraldin and Mohamad during their trial. You can read about the outcome of the trial here: Paros 3: Driving a boat is not a crime.

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