Greece has sentenced a fisherman to 280 years in prison for steering a migrant boat in rough waters, finding him guilty on charges of human trafficking.
The 45-year-old Egyptian man, identified as H Elfallah, was with his 15-year-old son on board a battered former fishing vessel holding 500 migrants making their way across the Mediterranean in November last year.
Both had hopes of reaching Greece before attempting to travel to the UK, where the man’s other son is currently applying for asylum.
As he could not afford to pay the thousands of Euros charged by traffickers, “he and his son agreed to do some chores”, according to the spokesman for Borderline Europe, quoted by the Telegraph newspaper.
Those chores included helping to steer the large vessel on its journey towards the island of Crete, a tactic reportedly often used by traffickers who want to avoid boarding and steering vessels in order to escape risk of capture and prosecution by governments.
After Elfallah and his son were rescued by Greek authorities, along with the vessel’s other passengers, the two were then accused of smuggling 476 people. That charge initially meant that the fisherman faced a maximum sentence of 4,760 years under a Greek law introduced in 2014, based on 10 years imprisonment for every migrant he had allegedly helped bring to Europe.
As Elfallah was found guilty at the trial in Crete earlier this week, the Court reportedly “took into account his reasons” for helping to steer the boat and gave him a lesser sentence of “only” 280 years imprisonment.
The conviction has been condemned by human rights groups and activists, who insist the Egyptian fisherman was forced to use his sailing skills because of the conditions. “We strongly condemn this outrageous criminalisation of people on the move”, the Borderline Europe spokesman stated. “How on earth do European authorities believe that people can come in a boat without someone piloting it?”