Greek smuggling trial ‘deeply damaging’ to EU, Irish aid worker says

Kerry native Seán Binder is one of 24 migrant rescue volunteers charged with alleged offences on Greek island of Lesbos in 2018

Seán Binder said the trial was “an attack on the idea of human rights and the rule of law” but that he was confident he would be found innocent in a fairly run trial.

The Castlegregory, Co Kerry, native is one of 24 migrant rescue volunteers who were charged on the Greek island of Lesbos in 2018 with crimes including misdemeanour counts of espionage-related offences, illegally accessing state communications and assisting criminal activity.

The defendants deny any wrongdoing, maintaining they were trying to help save lives at a time when Lesbos was overwhelmed by refugees and migrants arriving from nearby Turkey.

Mr Binder, a trained rescue diver, was working with Emergency Response Centre International, a Greek non-governmental organisation (NGO) at the time. Despite the NGO working closely with police and the coast guard, he was arrested and charged in August 2018 and placed in pretrial detention for almost four months.


Amnesty International and other organisations have criticised the Greek authorities for using the “farcical” and “baseless” charges to make an example of humanitarian workers.

The trial on the misdemeanour charges is set to begin on Tuesday, although other felony charges could take up to 15 years longer to be brought to trial in the Greek system.

Mr Binder told the Press Association he is eager for the trial to begin, but fears it will be drawn out further.

“Because if they really thought that we were the criminals they accuse us of being, and if they really thought they had the evidence to back it up, then they would have brought this trial as quickly as possible because they want us behind bars.”

The case was last adjourned in November 2021 and it is possible Tuesday’s hearing could result in another adjournment.

“It is just a material fact that using WhatsApp doesn’t make you a spy. It is a fact that helping people at risk of drowning is not smuggling. It is a fact that just because you happen to operate at a charity, you are not a money launderer. The arguments, the facts pulled, the evidence brought forward by the prosecution and the police investigation is so weak,” he said.

Mr Binder said the prosecution alleges that he committed smuggling offences on 12 occasions, but for the majority of these he says he was not on the island of Lesbos.

“It would be impossible for me to be in two places at once – one, at the border pulling people across it, and once, for example, on my graduation at university,” he said. “So I’m relatively confident that when we get to trial, and if it is indeed a fair trial, that I will be found innocent.”

Mr Binder said he was “arrested for doing really a small act of kindness” and “it was terrifying that the Greek state and the European Union” would seek to criminalise a 24-year-old for trying to help.

“Every bit of international law, every bit of European Human Rights Convention requires what I did, and more. The hypocrisy of the situation is deeply damaging to the EU as a whole,” he said. “It’s an attack on the idea of human rights and the rule of law.”

Mr Binder also said he has received hate mail he gets from people who accuse him of not being Irish and argue that migrants should have been “left to drown”.

“People who send me racist messages, often times, I’ll troll them back. When people say ‘You’re not Irish’, I’ll respond in Irish and make fun of them in Irish,” he said.

Mr Binder says he’s “powering through”, but if all 24 are found guilty, the consequences would be “far greater and far more worrying”.

“It’s one thing if I go to prison, because I’m just one person and it doesn’t really matter. But if the 24 of us go to prison for doing what everybody else does, and would do, that really, really does matter.” – PA