Written by Tanya Setian, CNN
Greek prosecutors have filed charges against rescuers who attempted to document migrants in a motion to the country’s Supreme Court.
The charges relate to actions taken in April last year by the Red Cross , Doctors Without Borders (MSF) and the Greek coast guard near the North African border town of Lesbos.
Tens of thousands of migrants fleeing conflict in the Middle East and Africa have arrived on the islands since 2015. Sea crossings by the so-called “illegal migration route” are currently the most dangerous in the world, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM).
One activist was taken ill after crossing from Turkey, and others became pregnant while being taken to hospitals on the Greek islands. The lack of documentation made it impossible to report the events to authorities, and question the rescuers’ actions.
“There was no sense of shame on the part of the rescuers,” said Geert Verschuur, president of SOS Mediterranee, a Belgian NGO that supported rescue efforts at sea.
“It was a systematic cover up by multiple rescue services involved in the Mediterranean. We had no international procedures for admission into clinical care because rescuers didn’t want their human rights violations to be recorded,” he said.
But several medical professionals have already spoken out in defense of the rescuers. Doctors Without Borders CEO and founder Joanne Liu said the actions were “almost universally supported.”
“MSF rescued a small number of patients who showed symptoms of dehydration, which by the time they arrived at the proper emergency response hospitals in Athens, could have been life-threatening,” she said in a statement.
“These volunteers shouldn’t be prosecuted for a health condition that was affecting these patients at the time of their arrival on Greek soil. Instead, they should be commended for acting selflessly, at great risk to their own lives, in order to rescue those in need of medical care.”
Evidence presented in court
Calls for accountability come amid a new political crisis in Greece. The government’s inability to revive the country’s ailing economy and to rein in soaring unemployment have led to growing social tensions and even riots.
Many in the broader political spectrum are also attempting to renegotiate the country’s bailout program.
A spokesman for the government’s Social Solidarity Unit, who declined to be named due to the sensitive nature of the issue, said it’s “difficult to understand why an organization wants to take action and face justice just because two people got ill, and even a third one.”
Speaking in the name of the other members of the EU’s border and coast guard force, the Frontex, the spokesman said, “We definitely think that the investigation should not take place. We think it is wrong.”
“We don’t see anything wrong with our officials cooperating with anybody, even if it might be an illegal migrant, or an animal or an enemy. They have a duty to cooperate. They don’t have a duty to stick their heads in the sand and hide this from the public,” he added.