Humanitarian worker arrested in Greece returns to Ireland

Volunteer from Co Cork was detained in August while working with refugees in Lesbos

Fanny Binder and Seán Binder, from Togher in Co Cork, at Dublin Airport on Sunday after Seán was released from custody in Greece. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Fanny Binder and Seán Binder, from Togher in Co Cork, at Dublin Airport on Sunday after Seán was released from custody in Greece. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

 

A humanitarian volunteer from Co Cork who was arrested on suspicion of human trafficking while working in Greece earlier this year, has been reunited with his mother.

Seán Binder (24), from Togher, said he travelled to Lesbos a year ago to assist refugees caught up in the humanitarian crisis in the Mediterranean and to gain hands-on experience after his studies in the field of international relations.

He said his detention in August while working with Emergency Response Centre International, and the arrest of three other non-governmental organisation (NGO) volunteers, came as a surprise. He said he had met police in a voluntary capacity after being informed that he was a person of interest in relation to alleged criminal activities.

The volunteers have since been charged by the Greek authorities with crimes including being members of a criminal organisation, espionage and facilitating the smuggling of migrants. A date has not been set for a trial.

“It is as if we did something criminal but I don’t understand how it can be problematic or questionable to pull somebody who is drowning out of the water or to make sure that an elderly lady or man doesn’t die of hypothermic shock. We were providing basic medical assistance,” said Mr Binder, who is now on bail.

He arrived at Dublin Airport on Sunday and was met by his mother Fanny and a group of his friends.

Activists targeted

Ms Binder said having her son back was the best Christmas gift after seeing images of him in handcuffs in a Greek jail. She was hoping that he would have some quiet time now as he initially flew to Berlin to give a press conference after his release.

Amnesty International Ireland has welcomed the release of Mr Binder and his co-accused but it says the smuggling charges against the humanitarian workers must be dropped. It said the case “is the latest example of how authorities are misusing anti-smuggling laws to target activists”.

Mr Binder, who was born in Germany and moved to Ireland aged five, said there is a mistaken belief that the presence of NGOs in the Mediterranean encourages people to make risky sea voyages to Europe.

“I did some research and the statistics show that NGOs don’t cause an increase in arrivals. In fact the more NGOs that operate in the sea, the less people die. The NGOs don’t cause migration. They mitigate the loss of life.”