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Seán is calling for the charges against him and other search and rescue workers to be dropped.
European Parliament

Kerry man who helped migrants reach Greece faces prison sentence as trial begins next month

Seán Binder is facing felony charges related to his efforts to help migrants crossing the Mediterranean Sea.

A KERRY MAN who could face a maximum sentence of 25 years in prison on felony charges related to his efforts to help migrants crossing the Mediterranean is set to go on trial next month. 

Seán Binder, speaking at a press conference in the European Parliament today alongside fellow activist Peter Wittenburg and Ireland South MEP Grace O’ Sullivan, called for the charges against him and 24 other humanitarian workers to be dropped. 

Binder travelled to Lesbos in 2017 and volunteered with a Greek non-profit group called Emergency Response Centre International (ERCI), to help people arriving on boats who were in distress off the Greek shores.

“I spent almost a year co-ordinating search and rescue operations on the island of Lesbos, which is a primary entry point for people seeking asylum,” Binder said. 

“At times we did have to help folks who were at risk of drowning due to their treacherous journeys, and for this I spent over three-and-a-half months in pre-trial prison. Let me tell you I wouldn’t recommend it, it is not great,” he added. 

Binder claimed that the rights of himself and the other defendants are being undermined due to untranslated indictments; indictments served without the right documentation; defendants not being allowed to go to their own hearings; and other issues that have arisen in the four years since the legal battle began. 

WhatsApp Image 2022-12-13 at 16.36.52 Seán Binder at the European Parliament today.

Calling for “respect for the rule of law” and for the charges to be dropped, he criticised the European Union’s response to a “severe humanitarian crisis” being to “secure and defend our borders against people at risk of drowning rather than helping them”.

“It is obviously not right,” he added.

The 28-year-old was born in Germany, grew up in Castlegregory, Co Kerry and now lives in London. 

Binder faces serious charges in relation to the voluntary work he did in Lesbos in 2018 including people smuggling, money laundering, espionage and membership in a criminal organisation. 

“Imagine you arrive at the scene of a car accident and there’s someone lying on the road – they clearly need your help. What would you check first – their pulse or their passport? If like me, you check their pulse first, you have committed the exact same crime that I supposedly am guilty of,” he passionately argued today in the Parliament. 

MEP O’Sullivan said that she had a sense of “déjà vu” standing in front of reporters with Wittenburg and Binder. 

“This time last year Seán and Peter were facing trial but it was postponed, and now they are going back to Lesbos to face trial on 10 January,” she said. 

O’Sullivan said that she is calling for the Greek authorities to drop the charges against all the search and rescue workers, and she further called on EU member states to “change the approach which is criminalising humanitarian efforts and rewarding far right extremist movements across Europe”. 

The MEP also said that Frontex, the body that coordinates and develops European Union border management, should be radically changed or abolished. 

She claimed that Frontex has been “collaborating with Libya militias”, and that the EU border force is “complicit in horrific abuses against migrants”, citing a recently published Humans Rights Watch (HRW) report

Following the publication of that report, Frontex said in a statement to Reuters that it was legally obliged to alert “all the national rescue centres” including those in Libya if one of its planes or vessels sees a boat in trouble.

The agency said it liaises with “all rescue coordination centres in the region: Italy, Malta, Libya and Tunisia. Unlike what the [HRW report] states, all four are internationally recognised rescue centres”.

It also claimed to be “proud that our crews have helped to save over 300,000 people at sea in recent years”.

Mardini charges

One of the other search and rescue workers being charged alongside binder is Sarah Mardini, a former competitive swimmer from Syria.

Mardini, alongside her Olympian sister Yusra, arrived in Greece as refugees in 2015. The pair made international headlines at the time as they famously swam for over three hours, dragging a boat with them after the engine failed and saved the lives of 18 fellow passengers. 

Last year, when the trial was initially scheduled to take place before being postponed due to technicalities, Colm O’ Gorman the then-executive director of Amnesty International Ireland told The Journal: “Amnesty International is dismayed by the decision by the Greek authorities to criminalise Sarah and Sean.

“We stand alongside Seán and Sarah and will continue campaigning until justice is fully delivered, their human rights are respected and upheld and all charges against them dropped,” he added. 

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