The father of a six-year-old who died trying to reach the Greek island of Samos from the Turkish coast has been charged by Greek authorities with endangering his son’s life.
Abdul*, 25, from Afghanistan, faces up to 10 years in prison if found guilty. The cause of his son’s death has not been confirmed.
The charge has been called “a direct attack on the right to seek asylum”.
Father and son had been part of a group of 25 people who left Turkey hoping to claim asylum in Europe, but their boat, believed to be a dinghy, reportedly capsized in the Aegean Sea. The six-year-old’s body was found on the shores of Samos near a pregnant woman, who was still alive and gave birth several days later.
Dimitris Choulis, Abdul’s lawyer, told the Guardian it took authorities many hours to mount a rescue mission and that as far as he knew Frontex, the EU border agency, had not been asked to assist in the rescue.
“My concern about this case is not only the delay on the rescue mission,” he said, “[but also] there is a bigger concern that these charges are going to be used as one more obstacle to any asylum seeker to actually come here to apply for asylum.
“If [asylum seekers] know that if you get into a boat with your family you will be criminally charged because you put them in danger, then we create more obstacles for people to arrive here.”
Abdul is now in quarantine, as is the procedure for all asylum seekers arriving in Greece. Choulis hopes Abdul will be tested for Covid-19 soon, so he can leave quarantine to organise his son’s funeral.
Vassilis Kerasiotis, lawyer and director of HIAS Greece, which offers free legal advice to asylum seekers in Greece, said the case was unprecedented.
“In other cases of shipwrecks that have happened since 2015, including those resulting in deaths, we never witnessed criminal charges being pressed on asylum seekers during their entrance in the country,” he said.
“This time we have charges for exposing an underage [person] to danger that resulted in death … We have witnessed such charges pressed for the same reasons at refugee camps in the country before, but never before in an entry point. So this clearly signifies a shift of approach.”
Josie Naughton, CEO of charity Choose Love, said: “The criminalisation of a father who was trying to seek safety for him and his son in Europe clearly reflects the failure of European migration and asylum policy.
“With the failure to establish safe and legal routes for seeking safety in Europe, politicians are knowingly forcing people to take dangerous journeys by sea. These charges against a grieving father are unjust and a direct attack on the right to seek asylum. The European Union urgently needs to find a humane, rights-based solution.”
A spokesperson from the Greek coastguard told the Guardian it had been informed of the incident by an individual in the early hours of Sunday, but when two coastguard boats arrived at the location, they did not find any passengers. All the passengers were later found along the shore, the spokesperson said.
The spokesperson added that a 23-year-old man, understood to be in charge of the boat, has been arrested.