Greek authorities have arrested a refugee whose son died while attempting to reach a Greek island from the nearby Turkish coast on suspicion of endangering a life, a crime that could carry a penalty of up to 10 years in prison.
The 25-year-old man and his 6-year-old son, both Afghans, were among a total of 25 people who were found on the shores of the eastern Aegean island of Samos early Sunday.
The coast guard said the body of the 6-year-old boy was found with one woman on a part of the coast that was particularly difficult to access, while the others were found in small groups elsewhere.
According to the coast guard, the refugees said they had come across from the Turkish coast in a dinghy. Authorities said it was unclear what had happened to the boat, and exactly how the child had died.
The coast guard said Monday a 23-year-old who had been identified as having driven the boat was arrested on suspicion of smuggling, while the boy’s 25-year-old father was arrested on suspicion of violating endangerment laws.
Greece is one of the most popular routes for people fleeing conflict and poverty in the Middle East, Asia and Africa and hoping to enter the European Union. The vast majority make their way to eastern Greek islands from the nearby Turkish coast.
Although the distance is small, the journey is often perilous, with smugglers frequently using unseaworthy and vastly overcrowded boats and dinghies that sometimes capsize or sink.
Although it is common for Greek authorities to arrest whoever is identified as having steered a refugee vessel to Greece, in the cases of shipwrecks it is rare for the surviving parents of children who die to be charged with criminal offences.
“These charges are a direct attack on the right to seek asylum and it is outrageous that a grieving father is being punished for seeking safety for him and his child,” Josie Naughton, founder of the aid organisation Help Refugees/Choose Love, said.
“Criminalising people that are seeking safety and protection shows the failure of the European Union to find a solution to unsafe migration routes that forced thousands to risk their lives to seek protection.”