The draconian prison sentences imposed on four young Afghans found guilty of starting the fire that destroyed the Moria migrant camp on the Greek island of Lesbos last year have been described as a “parody of justice.”
Defense attorneys called the sentences “unfair” and said that three of the defendants were under 18 at the time and should have been tried in juvenile court. The asylum seekers received prison terms of 10 years each.
“The maximum possible sentences were imposed without the court recognizing any mitigating circumstances,” said Patrikios Patrikounakis, among the lawyers in charge of the case. “His age should have been taken into account according to the Greek penal code. What we saw, instead, was a parody of justice, “he told The Guardian.
A three-member court meeting on the Aegean island of Chios announced the verdict after a two-day hearing on Saturday. Neither international observers nor the media were able to attend the proceedings after the judge closed the courtroom citing Covid-19 restrictions.
The Afghans were convicted of arson, which endangered human lives and property destruction nine months after fires destroyed the camp, then Europe’s largest detention center and infamous for living conditions described as miserable and inhumane. .
The four, among more than 13,000 asylum seekers in Moria at the time, are expected to return to Avlona, a prison for juvenile offenders, outside Athens, where they were detained pending trial.
At an earlier hearing in March, two other young Afghans were sentenced to five years in prison.
The fires did not cause casualties, but for days, thousands of men, women and children were forced to live on the streets in Lesbos until the construction of a temporary emergency settlement near Mytilene, the island’s port capital.
Authorities believe the flames were intentionally lit by the camp’s occupants after lockdown measures were imposed following the discovery of the Covid-19 cases at the facility.
The defense immediately appealed against the verdict and the lawyers said that, if necessary, they would take the case to the European court of human rights.
The charges against the four were based on the testimony of another Afghan asylum seeker who has since disappeared and did not appear in court. The defendants have claimed that they were deliberately framed by the witness, an ethnic Pashtun, arguing that all six belong to the persecuted Hazara minority in Afghanistan.
Standing outside the Chios courthouse, defense attorneys criticized the sentence, calling it “an absurd conviction without evidence.”
They said it was outrageous that his request for the trial to be held in juvenile court had been rejected. “We will extinguish all legal recourse so that these people get a fair trial,” said Efi Doussi, one of the attorneys. “Justice is for everyone, regardless of ethnicity, race or religion.”
Echoing his colleagues, Patrikounakis called the verdict predetermined. “Clearly it had come from above and it was a decision of the state,” he said. “Before an investigation was launched, the government ministers were asking for convictions.”
Greece has been at the end of the refugee crisis since the Syrian civil war. But the Aegean islands, which are on the front lines of immigration flows, have seen a dramatic drop in arrivals since 2020.The center-right government in Athens has made concerted efforts over the past year to decongest the islands that they had become reception centers for thousands of asylum seekers as part of a broader EU scheme to contain migrants at the continent’s borders.
Despite opposition from locals, Athens has announced that it will replace anarchic open-air camps with state-of-the-art, closed facilities for refugees on Lesbos, Chios, Samos, Leros and Kos.
Government officials have also acknowledged that Moria was unfit for his purpose. “It was a national disgrace. In many ways, it was a good thing that he burned, ”said a senior official.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism