Irish man Seán Binder arrives in Greece to face trial linked to search and rescue work

Binder claims he and 24 aid workers have been charged to dissuade others from saving refugees from drowning in the Mediterranean

Migrant and refugee aid worker Seán Binder from Ireland has arrived in Greece to face trial on Tuesday January 10th, charged with offences arising from his work with a Greek search-and-rescue NGO.

The charges were brought against Mr Binder and 24 other aid workers in 2018 and, after a long delay, they will go to trial on Tuesday morning.

“I took the night flight to Lesbos and arrived at 8am on Monday. It’s a long journey but we’re desperate for this trial to go ahead. We’re up at 9am in the court on Tuesday, we’re case number one so hopefully we will actually be seen. We’ve been pushing more than the prosecution has for this,” Mr Binder said.

Speaking to the Irish Times ahead of the trial, Mr Binder said he believed there was a possibility the trial would be adjourned again, after an earlier scheduled hearing in 2021 was adjourned due to the indictment against the defendants containing basic errors, only one of which has since been corrected.


“It’s possible the judge will say the procedural errors haven’t been fixed and we won’t go to trial again. But even if we do go ahead, without resolving these errors, it doesn’t bode well for a fair trial in general,” he said.

“The interesting thing is, if they thought we were really the heinous criminals they say we are, they’d want us in prison years ago. But there isn’t any wrongdoing, so the delay seems to be the primary tactic of the prosecution because the delay acts as a chilling effect on all other search and rescue work”.

“Other search and rescue work has been impacted by this, so people continue to drown in the Mediterranean,” he said.

Mr Binder will face trial on the misdemeanour charges on January 10th, but the more serious felony charges, including facilitation of illegal entry, money laundering, espionage and forgery, could hang over him for several more years, as the statute of limitation for going to trial is up to fifteen years.

“It’s a nightmare personally because I had hoped to move on with my life by now. You’d hope to be able to go back to work. I’m a trained lawyer now, but I can’t be called to the bar until after this trial. I’m approaching 30, and if I want to have children, I have to take into consideration that I could be sentenced to up to 20 years in prison for some of these charges,” he said.

“It’s had a severe psychological and financial cost for me, but if I go to prison, that’s one thing. The more frightening prospect is if all 24 of us do - that’s terrifying.”

Throughout the past four years, Mr Binder has received “hate mail and death threats” from people across Europe.

“I’ve noticed there’s usually two responses - people calling me a criminal or people calling me a hero. Ironically, both of those are problematic, because both imply that helping someone in distress is abnormal and it shouldn’t be. Search and rescue at its root is about the fact that nobody should be drowning in our oceans. Whether or not somebody gets asylum at the end of the day is a separate discussion,” Mr Binder said.

“I’m framed as some liberal snowflake, but I push strongly against that. The authorities have disengaged in a human rights approach here. This case, if it goes ahead on Tuesday, is an important case - it’s a precedent setting case according to all the major human rights organisations. It’s not just about me, it’s about the rule of law itself.”

Jade Wilson

Jade Wilson

Jade Wilson is a reporter for The Irish Times