A Greek court has ordered the release of a Somali migrant who had been sentenced to life in prison for human smuggling.
The case has highlighted harsh sentencing guidelines in Greece introduced in recent years as part of an effort to fight irregular migration.
In 2021, Mohammad Hanad Abdi was sentenced to 142 years in prison after being convicted following a deadly crossing in a dinghy from Turkey to the nearby Greek island of Lesbos the previous year, news agency AP reported. At an appeal on Monday (9 January) on the Greek Aegean island of Lesbos, Abdi’s sentence was reduced to eight years.
More importantly, an appeals court judge ordered his release, recognising time served and good behaviour.
The trial was attended by several members of the European Parliament who had argued that the 29-year-old had been wrongfully convicted. “We are all in tears with relief. It was a very difficult day. The state prosecutor took a tough line and wanted to uphold the sentence,” EU lawmaker Stelios Kouloglou, who led the campaign and attended the trial, told AP. “It’s a very important decision because many ordinary migrants are being treated like smugglers,” Kouloglou said. “Mohammad will be out in several days when his papers are processed…the next step for us is to campaign for the law to change.”
Abdi, a father of four who fled Somalia for Turkey, was one of 34 people who boarded a rubber boat to Lesbos from the nearby Turkish mainland in December 2020. He told the court he had only steered the dinghy after it had been abandoned by a Turkish smuggler.
Two people drowned during the crossing when the vessel took on water. 33 others were rescued. According to Abdi’s lawyers, many of the survivors backed the Somali man’s account of events. The case has brought attention to drastic border protection laws in Greece introduced in recent years as part of an effort to curb irregular migration into the European Union, of which Greece is a member state.
The government has described its migration policy as “strict but fair,” arguing that tough sentencing for smugglers is a key part of the country’s border defence policy. It also maintains that it is only protecting its national and the EU’s external borders. It cites for example that Greek border authorities arrested some 1 300 suspected human smugglers last year along the Evros river bordering Turkey.